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How Microsoft money is driving Washington’s gun background check debate

(Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

It looks like you’re trying to add gun controls. Can Microsoft help?

Three former executives — all of them among the world’s richest men — and their spouses have contributed more than $1.1 million to a campaign pushing Washington state to adopt universal background checks for all gun sales. Of the nearly $3.5 million raised by all groups fighting for and against the universal background check ballot measure—Initiative 594—roughly a third of the funds have come from that trio: Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Paul Allen, who rank 1st, 26th and 21st, respectively, on the Forbes 400 list of the richest people in America.

Allen, a co-founder who resigned form the company decades ago, contributed the largest amount — $500,000 — last Monday, though Ballmer, who stepped down as CEO this February, and his wife Connie have together donated $580,000 in recent weeks. Bill and Melinda Gates contributed $50,000 last October. All the contributions were given to one group, the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which has raised $3.3 million, according to Secretary of State data. Two groups opposed to the measure have raised less than $90,000.

“I would imagine this will be the one of the most expensive initiative campaigns in the country because of what it symbolically stands for,” University of Washington political science Prof. Matt Barreto told the Associated Press recently.

The measure would apply the background checks already required of sales by licensed dealers to all sales in which either the buyer or seller is in Washington, meaning the checks would be conducted for sales at gun shows, online, and between individuals. The checks would have to be conducted even if a firearm is given as a gift or loan.

Gifts between family members, the transfer of antique firearms, temporary transfers to prevent death or injury, transfers involving members of public agencies including law enforcement, and transfers to licensed gunsmiths who service firearms would all be exempt. A firearms dealer risks losing his or her license for violating the rule.

An April poll found support for the measure at more than 70 percent.

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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