In Our View: Dueling Initiatives

Background checks ballot measure opposed by effort with similar number

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Signature gathering has begun for Initiative 594, a reasonable, common-sense ballot measure that polls show is supported by 80 percent of Washingtonians, but which legislators have lacked the courage to address. The initiative would mandate background checks for all gun sales, similar to those already required for sales involving licensed firearms dealers.

The Columbian has been one of the strongest supporters of background checks, and the camp is crowded. Numerous state and national polls reflect public support for something that's not really new. Anytime you buy a gun from a dealer, you'll have to pass a quick and easy background check. I-594 applies that same principle to all gun sales. Remember, documented transfer of ownership is common in our society, with title transfers in vehicle sales and deed transfers in home sales.

Here is where this issue gets real complicated for voters: Supporters of another ballot measure — Initiative 591 — are also gathering signatures. Although I-594 and I-591 are close in title numbers, they couldn't be more different. I-591 bans government confiscation of guns (a knee-jerk overreaction; we don't know any rational, official proposal in our state for doing so) and any background check that is not national in scope.

It's important to know the difference: 594 is yes for background checks, 591 is no. Even if you sign the wrong petition, no long-term harm will be done. Neither measure can be implemented until passed by voters as early as 2014, and that won't happen for either initiative that falls short of 246,372 valid signatures by Jan. 3.

Here's an interesting side note: Some signature gatherers could be, shall we say, flexible in their sales pitches. Jim Camden of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane describes "the prospect of some enterprising signature gatherer working both initiatives, and when the target voter reacts negatively to being asked to sign up for tighter background checks, producing a separate clipboard to sign up to ban tighter background checks."

We present that possibility just so you'll know. Both groups say they're discouraging such dual marketing efforts, but paid signature gathers aren't bound to any official allegiance.Camden also reported that I-594 (pro background checks) supporters have raised about $750,000, largely in Seattle and other Puget Sound communities, while I-591 (anti background checks) advocates have raised about $13,000, most of it coming from the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms of Bellevue.

We agree with this perspective presented in an editorial in The Herald of Everett: "In matters vital to community life -- laws that inform whether a convicted wife beater can manipulate Washington's legal sieve to get his paws on a semi-automatic weapon, for example -- the judgment of the people, not the political class, should triumph."

In other words, when members of the political class (legislators who, The Herald opines, are silenced by "I-don't-want-the-NRA-on-my-tail" fears) fail to do the people's will, it's time for an initiative.