A grassroots army of Washington state gun rights activists is fighting back against an attempt by a well-financed Seattle-based gun control organization to expand background checks, and institute what some believe is the first step toward registration.
Two initiatives, one a simple two sentence measure backed by gun owners and the other spanning 15 pages launched by anti-gunners, are on a collision course.
The gun rights coalition, dubbed Protect Our Gun Rights (POGR), includes leaders from the 17,000- member Washington Arms Collectors (WAC), Gun Owners Action League of Washington (GOAL) and the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Leaders of the effort include CCRKBA Chairman Alan Gottlieb, who also serves on the WAC board of directors.
WAC President John Rodabaugh, a practicing attorney and federally licensed firearms dealer, was matter-of-fact about facing a “rich man’s juggernaut” that already has amassed a small fortune.
“I don’t have a billion dollars,” he said, “but we’re going to do all that we can.” It is the classic David v. Goliath political battle, pitting a relative handful of deep pocket anti-gun elitists against a grassroots army consisting largely of blue collar sportsmen, hobbyists, competitors and collectors – many of whom live paycheck-to-paycheck, but who will not surrender their privacy, or their gun rights, without a fight. Members of the WAC board did not commit to such an ambitious funding effort without considerable discussion, but Rodabaugh noted, “This is what we were elected for; to show some leadership when our organization is threatened.” The gun control measure apparently poses a significant threat to WAC’s ability to conduct gun shows, a problem shared by other gun shows operated in various Southwest and Eastern Washington locations.
Incredibly—and to the amusement of many gun owners—the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility (WAGR) has repeatedly sent out fund-raising email blasts accusing the National Rifle Association of steering the opposition.
In reality to date, the NRA has not been a player in the campaign for Initiative 591, a simple anti-confiscation measure that also prohibits background checks unless they comply with a uniform national standard.
That’s where problems begin for the WAGR group, because their 15-page initiative would significantly alter how background checks are conducted in the Evergreen State, and under what circumstances. Their measure, Initiative 594, got off to a sluggish start because of challenges to the ballot title.
Under provisions of I-594, background checks would be required for nearly all firearms transfers, with limited exceptions for family members and police. However, according to one organization, the Hunters’ Heritage Council, WAGR’s I-594 would also conflict with existing state statute regarding hunting by juveniles. HHC represents some 60,000 Evergreen State hunters and smaller groups.
HHC Legislative Director Ed Owens told TGM that I-594, which he calls a “gun registration measure,” includes a tenet that says juveniles under age 18 would not be allowed to hunt unless they are “under the direct supervision and control of a responsible adult.” That flies in the face of current law, which allows youngsters who have graduated from the Hunter Education course, to hunt without such supervision.
HHC contacted Bellevue attorney David Newman, who said the hunting group is considering various “strategic options.” The POGR coalition was formed during an emergency meeting of the WAC Board of Directors. They voted unanimously to support the effort with up to $200,000 which they hope to raise initially with member contributions, and CCRKBA also committed to an equal amount.
POGR’s effort also got a head start on signature gathering by more than two weeks because of the ballot title challenges by two attorneys, one based in Everett and the other in Vancouver.
Meanwhile, the gun control initiative backers have raised more than $1 million against about half that amount raised or pledged by the firearms community. By some estimates, the signature gathering effort to put POGR’s initiative in front of the legislature in January will cost between $500,000 and $1 million.
WAC is allowing POGR to solicit contributions at its monthly gun shows in Puyallup and Monroe. Also, contributions and requests for petitions may be sent to POGR at 12500 N.E. Tenth Place, Bellevue, WA 98005, or call (425) 454-4911.
On the other side, WAGR has gotten major support from wealthy Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, with a veiled threat from Mayors Against Illegal Guns that billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will throw his considerable bankroll behind that campaign.
Both measures are initiatives to the state legislature, so they have until Jan. 3, 2014 to gather signatures.
If they both make it to the November 2014 ballot, I-591 will appear on the ballot ahead of the gun control measure.
Balanced against 15 pages of language, I-591 is very simple. It would add two brief new sections to state firearms statutes specifying that:
• “It is unlawful for any government agency to confiscate guns or other firearms from citizens without due process.”
• “It is unlawful for any government agency to require background checks on the recipient of a firearm unless a uniform national standard is required.”
Gottlieb told TGM the WAGR measure, Initiative 594, is “overreaching and over-complicated” while I- 591 is straightforward. It would put to rest one of the greatest concerns of gun owners – especially those who migrated north from California, where gun registration and bans came incrementally and now background checks are even required for ammunition purchases – about registration and ultimately confiscation. And, it points to the need for a uniform national standard on background checks.
“The firearms community tried to work with the Washington legislature earlier this year,” he recalled. “It’s almost like some people on the other side wanted that effort to fail, just so they could use their fat bank accounts to buy gun rights here in Washington.”