When there is talk of tightening gun laws, people often flock to Nick Pratka’s firearms store in Vancouver; they stock up on ammunition and know exactly how they would cast their vote.
“On issues like this, where people hear gun control — they vote on one side or the other,” Pratka said.
But two conflicting measures slated for the November ballot — one expanding background checks and the other against more restrictions — seem to have thrown the dialogue.
“I think people are confused,” Pratka said.
Indeed, in a recent poll, both measures, despite being incompatible, had majority support from voters. Pratka said he imagines when it gets closer to November, the scenario will change. But right now, he added, “it feels like we’re in unchartered waters for the state.”
“It’s as if Costco had asked voters to privatize liquor,” he said, and voters supported it, while also approving a measure “saying no one in the state can buy liquor.”
The two gun measures are diametrically opposed: Initiative 594 would expand background checks to private and online gun sales. Initiative 591 would prevent the state from adopting stricter standards than what federal law dictates.
A recent Elway poll showed that 55 percent of voters supported I-591, which prohibits background checks “unless a national standard is required.” Seventy-two percent supported I-594, which would expand background checks to include transactions between private individuals, such as online sales and at gun shows. And 40 percent of those interviewed for the poll were inclined to vote for both measures.
“We knew all along that the gun lobby, that they were going to try and confuse voters,” said Zach Silk, campaign manager with I-594. “And it’s clear from the poll, there is confusion out there.”
Silk said it’s a strategic move.
“The easiest way to defeat a popular measure is to put an alternative on the ballot; they knew that, we knew that,” Silk said, adding it doesn’t advance “meaningful policy.”
Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, which is part of a coalition called Protect Our Gun Rights that is behind I-591, said he wants to see a “uniform standard” in the law. Voters are smart people, he added. There is no need to confuse them, he said, because I-594 could be defeated simply based on its own flaws. By November, people won’t be wrestling with how to cast their vote, Gottlieb said.
“If both indeed were to pass, the Legislature or, more likely the state Supreme Court, would have to sort it out,” David Ammons, spokesman for the secretary of state, wrote in an email.
“Until now, we’ve dodged a bullet, forgive the pun. On a number of occasions, voters have faced rival ballot measures dealing with similar subject matter in the same year, but thus far voters have not chosen to approve conflicting measures,” Ammons said.
594 vs. 591
Initiative 594 would require background checks on gun purchases including transactions made through the Internet and private sales. There would be exceptions for sales between family members. Currently, under federal law, only licensed gun sellers are required to conduct a background check. If a person bought a firearm from a gun show, no background check would be required unless the seller was a licensed firearm seller.
“It dramatically reduces the access to guns. Right now, they can go online or to a gun show and get a gun. … No questions asked,” Silk said.
The measure would be a “very minor inconvenience for law-abiding gun owners,” Silk said, while being a “powerful deterrent for criminals.”
Initiative 591 would prohibit the government from confiscating firearms without due process and would prohibit any changes to background checks law unless the federal government mandates the changes.
Gottlieb acknowledges that there could be some confusion because it is already against the law to confiscate firearms without due process.
“I believe it protects gun rights and public safety at the same time. It doesn’t make any direct change, it just protects people under the law,” he said.
He blasted the other initiative as an unfunded mandate, further strapping law enforcement’s limited resources.
Gottlieb said his measure adds another level of protection.
“The government does things all the time it’s not supposed to do,” he said.