In Our View: Citizens Take Action on Guns

New initiative would require background checks on private gun sales

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One of the most unsurprising initiatives in Washington state history was filed on Tuesday as activists submitted a ballot measure that would mandate background checks for all gun sales, similar to those required for licensed firearms dealers.

Wise Washingtonians saw this one coming a mile away. Public sentiment broadly supports requiring background checks, and when both the Legislature and Congress failed to act, the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility decided to do the politicians' job for them. That, after all, is one of the purposes of citizen-led ballot measures. The same thing occurred in 2006 with a statewide ban on indoor public smoking, which legislators lacked the courage to pass but which 63 percent of statewide voters later approved.

The Columbian is part of that burgeoning wave of public support, having long editorialized in favor of requiring background checks on all gun sales. Contrary to what many opponents state, we do not believe taking this step will eradicate the gun violence epidemic that has invaded even the most pastoral corners of our nation. But it would be part of the overall solution. People who should not be allowed to buy guns — criminals and the mentally ill — would find it more difficult to do so.

Now begins the signature-gathering process; 325,000 are required by Jan. 4, 2014. If that effort succeeds, the measure would go before the Legislature. If lawmakers refuse to take action, the initiative would go to the voters in November 2014. And if recent polls are to be believed, passage of the initiative would be expected.

Activists intentionally kept this initiative simple. If passed, background checks would be required for all online sales and private transactions with well-thought-out exceptions to include gifts between immediate family members, plus antiques and relics, temporary transfers for self-defense, and loans for lawful hunting or sporting activities.

This initiative presents no new concept. Background checks already are required for sales involving federally licensed gun dealers. And if the initiative passes, the required background check itself also would be relatively simple for private sales. It takes less than two minutes to complete a background check. The initiative would require the check to be conducted at a licensed firearms dealer. According to the alliance website posted above, 98 percent of Washingtonians live within 10 miles of a dealer, and there are twice as many licensed gun dealers in the state as U.S. post offices.

This effort is well-funded. The Seattle Times reports a recent fundraiser in Seattle raised $1 million from 1,200 attendees. More can be expected from both state and national sources. Of course, opponents will conduct their own well-funded campaigns as well. But, finally, the people will get to decide.

As state and federal politicians have abandoned their duty on this issue and ignored the tsunami of public support for background checks, we have continually predicted the people would not accept defeat but instead launch their own efforts. It's good to see our state starting to move in the right direction in trying to reduce gun violence.