Dueling gun initiatives likely to make 2014 ballot in Washington

November 22, 2013

Boxes of petitions for Initiative 594 at the Washington secretary of state’s office in Olympia, Wash. (AP photo/Elaine Thompson)

More than 600,000 Washington state voters have signed petitions to send two diametrically opposed initiatives to the state legislature in 2014, and likely to voters next November, setting the stage for multimillion-dollar fights in a liberal state with a history of voting to protect gun rights.

On Thursday, backers of Initiative 591 submitted an estimated 340,000 signatures to the Washington secretary of state, nearly 100,000 more signatures than required to qualify the measure. The initiative would prevent the state from adopting universal background checks during gun sales.

Supporters of another measure, Initiative 594, turned in about 250,000 signatures in October, and a spokesman told the Seattle Times they were “closing in” on 325,000 signatures. That measure would establish background checks on all gun sales in the state.

Both measures are initiatives to the legislature; if they gather the required 246,000 valid signatures, the measures would be automatically placed on the state legislature’s calendar for the upcoming session. If the measures don’t pass, they move to the November 2014 general election ballot, where voters will get their say.

Washington’s legislature frequently declines to act on initiatives sent their way, opting instead to let voters work their will. And with a narrowly divided state Senate — Democrats technically own a one-seat majority, but two conservative Democrats have partnered with Republicans to form a governing coalition — neither gun measure is likely to pass.

Earlier this year, Democrats pressed for a measure backed by Gov. Jay Inslee (D) to expand background checks. Despite intense lobbying from big-name gun control advocates, the measure fell short by a slim margin.

Washington has been a focus of the gun debate before. Back in 1997, gun control advocates collected enough signatures to place Initiative 676, which would have mandated firearm licenses and required handguns to be sold with a trigger lock, on the ballot. The National Rifle Association spent more than $2 million and brought their president, actor Charlton Heston, to Washington to campaign against the measure.

Voters rejected I-676 by 29 percent to 71 percent.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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