Washington State gun owners are gearing up for what could become a battle with national implications now that gun prohibitionists have filed a so-called “background check” initiative to the legislature, which could lead to a brutal election campaign in 2014.

The 15-page gun control initiative filed on behalf of the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility (WAGR) will get national attention for several reasons, but perhaps the most important of those is because billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) has indicated it will back the measure financially.

It already got a major fund raising kickoff that brought in more than $1 million from 1,200 people attending the campaign event in late May. The measure is getting strong financial support from Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.

Passage of the initiative, which Bellevue gun rights advocate Alan Gottlieb said is “overly restrictive by a long shot,” could embolden the gun prohibition lobby to spend millions of dollars in other states to buy elections. Bloomberg is already investing millions of dollars to influence politics in various states, and the executive director of MAIG told the Seattle Times that the organization would “support the ballot measure as much as possible.”

Gun rights activists are furious that Bloomberg, Hanauer and other big money anti-gunners are trying to “buy an election.”

The initiative has some problems, according to Gottlieb – chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms – and others who are currently analyzing it. Veteran lobbyist and gun law expert Joe Waldron, who now serves as CCRKBA’s legislative director, has already spotted conflicts between the language and federal law on use of the National Instant Check System (NICS) and on the “delay” period between the time a dealer initiates a background check and the time he can complete the transaction, from the current 72 hours established in federal law to ten business days (translation: 14 days).

“Why,” Waldron asks rhetorically. “Isn’t the federal standard good enough?”

Waldron reminded TGM of a famous statement made by the Rev. Martin Luther King, the great civil rights leader: “A right delayed is a right denied.” Dr. King was discussing voting rights, but a civil right is a civil right.

Anti-gun mindset

Even before the measure was filed with the Secretary of State in Olympia, the state capitol, anti-gunners were posting revealing comments about their ultimate plans. One such message appeared on the Seattle P-I.com website, from a man who identified himself as Robert McAbee.

“The thing responsible gun owners often can’t grasp is that it is impossible to separate the negligent or homicidal gun owners from the responsible ones,” McAbee wrote. “We can’t follow everyone home and ensure they aren’t leaving their guns in the reach of children and we can’t determine who is a hot head and will lose it and shoot someone in the future. Murder is a future action. Same thing with mental illness. The only solution that will work is disarming.”

Gottlieb told TGM that the initiative has a strong chance of getting to the Legislature next January. Backers have until Jan. 3, 2014 to gather signatures. Three things could happen.

First, the Legislature could ignore the measure and simply allow it to go on the November 2014 ballot.

Second, lawmakers could create an alternate initiative of their own, placing both measures before voters next year.

Lastly, and perhaps least likely, is that the Legislature could adopt the initiative as written.

Gottlieb, who attempted to work with Washington State lawmakers earlier this year on a background check proposal that would have contained important exemptions and a provision to abolish the state’s long-standing pistol registry, indicated to TGM that he is willing to help the Legislature develop a more sensible alternative. Because the signature campaign is so well financed, he said there is little chance that backers will fail in their signature gathering effort.

Questionable facts

Almost before the campaign kicked off, supporters of the gun control measure were giving indications they would be playing fast and loose with facts.

The P-I quoted the Rev. Michael Ryan, pastor at Seattle’s St. James Cathedral, who said that Washington has logged more than “6,000 gun deaths in the past decade.” However, that figure appears to include people who committed suicide, and those who were killed in justifiable homicides.

According to Mother Jones magazine in 2010 there were 609 total gun-related deaths in Washington. Of those, 464 were suicides, leaving 145 homicides.

TGM checked the FBI Uniform Crime Report archives dating back to 2001, adding up the number of murder and non-negligent manslaughter victims, which came to 1,990. That figure does not break down the cause of death, whether it was from gunshot wound, blunt force trauma, drowning, poisoning, strangulation or other causes, and it applies to the years 2001-2011.

The number of actual murder victims – regardless the cause of death – does not come close to the number of fatalities stated by the clergyman.

Firearms rights activists contend that no gun control law will prevent a suicide, because determined people will find some way to end their own lives.

Unlike the proposal Gottlieb offered to lawmakers in February, the initiative has no exemptions for citizens with concealed pistol licenses, who already go through background checks, or for members of private organizations that hold gun shows. The Washington Arms Collectors, which holds the biggest gun shows in Washington, requires that firearms transactions be conducted only by members, and to be a WAC member in good standing requires a background check.

There are limited exemptions in the initiative for some law enforcement transactions, for gifts between immediate family members, and for antique guns. Most transactions between police officers still require the background check.

Gottlieb said it will be interesting to see what happens with retail gun sales in the wake of this initiative filing. Such anti-gun efforts typically result in an increase of firearm and ammunition sales.

Seattle’s KIRO Radio quoted Hanauer insisting that Washingtonians who do not go along with his agenda are “irresponsible gun owners and the people that make money selling guns to irresponsible gun owners.”

“We want to give the legislature a chance to embarrass itself once again because we’re in the game for the long term, and we want to find out who are our friends and who are our enemies,” he reportedly stated.