Washington gun control advocates turn to initiative process

Measure would add background checks to private purchases



OLYMPIA — Gun control advocates in Washington launched an initiative campaign Monday, enlisting the help of voters to expand firearm background checks after lawmakers declined to pass a similar measure.

The group Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility will need to collect nearly 250,000 valid signatures, with state officials recommending the submission of more than 300,000 to account for duplicates and invalid signatures. Organizers are still finalizing the language for the initiative and will begin gathering signatures in the summer.

Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick was among those who are supporting the campaign.

“For law enforcement, criminal background checks are essential in protecting lives and property,” he said.

Gun buyers must currently undergo a background check when they purchase a weapon from a federally licensed firearms dealer. Lawmakers in Olympia had proposed expanding that to cover private transactions, fearing that criminals or the mentally ill were acquiring guns without sufficient checks.

That legislative effort fell short in recent weeks.

Support in surveys

Advocates believe the polls show the public is sufficiently on the side of expanding background checks. An independent Elway Poll conducted two months ago found that 79 percent of registered voters in the state supported background checks on all gun sales, including private transactions.

However, gun control supporters also believed polls were on their side before 70 percent of state voters rejected a 1997 initiative that would have required handgun owners to pass a safety course.

The campaign will likely be costly. Christian Sinderman, a political consultant working with the alliance, said he expects it will cost between $3 million and $10 million — or more. The group will have costs for collecting signatures, then reaching out to voters and potentially competing with an opposition campaign from pro-gun groups.

Dave Workman, a spokesman with the Bellevue-based national gun-rights group the Second Amendment Foundation, said he couldn’t really comment on the proposed initiative since the details of the measure hadn’t been drafted.

“We’re a little skeptical about it,” he said. “The devil is always in the details with these things.”