Progressives had little to celebrate in Tuesday’s blowout losses, but they found some solace in Washington state’s passage of expanded background checks for gun transfers and promised to build on the momentum for further gun control.
Initiative 594 was seen as a major coup for gun control advocates. While 17 states now have background check laws, none go as far as Washington’s new law. It represents the first time any state has required background checks on all private gun transfers, no matter how temporary that transfer might be.
If a teenager were to grab his shotgun, purchased under his father’s name, and go out hunting without his father, he would be in violation of the law unless his dad had paid for a background check on his own son.
“He would have to go (hunting) with his dad to avoid violating this law. A lot of kids in rural areas like to go hunting before school in the morning and will take their dad’s gun,” said Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. “That now becomes a problem.”
Handing your gun to a friend at a “licensed gun range” is not enough to trigger the need for a background check under I-584, as long as you are there with your friend while he or she takes target practice. To loan your gun to a friend to take to the firing range for an hour without your presence would be illegal without a background check, Gottlieb said.
Watch Moms Demand Action celebrate I-594 victory in propaganda video below:
While proponents portrayed the law as a simple, “common sense” background check, the 18-page initiative will allow much more, critics say. By passing the measure, Washington voters have agreed to give the state the authority to set up a database and track almost every conceivable transfer of a firearm, even temporary loans among friends and family members.
Even some of I-594′s proponents have acknowledged that the measure could not have been so easily passed if not for the huge spending advantage they enjoyed.
Five billionaires led by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Microsoft chief Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, and Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer poured millions into the campaign for I-594. Together, they helped foot the bill for incessant TV and radio ads.
Gun rights advocates were left shooting blanks at a moving target. They had about $1.5 million to play with compared to more than $10 million spent by the billionaires and their supporters. Bloomberg’s organization alone – Everytown For Gun Safety – pumped $2 million into expanded background checks for one Western state. He’s not likely to stop there.
With Congress now firmly in the hands of conservatives, the new strategy is to bypass lawmakers and take the vote directly to the people.
Bloomberg, Gates and their billionaire buddies will now attempt to replicate the Washington success in other states to further restrict gun transfers and monitor the movement of firearms through statewide databases, sources tell WND. They’ll start with the low-hanging fruit, which are the blue states filled with progressive voters in major metropolitan areas, says Dave Workman, senior editor of GunMag.com.
“Right now it is my understanding that Bloomberg’s bunch is looking at a half dozen other states,” Workman told WND. “They’ve already started a movement in Nevada. Oregon may be next. Nothing satisfies these people. In Seattle this morning they held a press conference and they’re already looking over the horizon on what to do next.”
Workman, who lives in King County in metropolitan Seattle, said the power of the liberal get-out-the-vote machine there was overwhelming. Voters in rural areas of eastern Washington voted solidly against I-594 and understood the gravity of the issue but there were not enough of them to stop the onslaught.
Enforcement an open question
Workman said the new law is so restrictive it may not even be enforceable.
“Frankly, I don’t know that it is enforceable. The law enforcement organizations that came out against it, specifically said it wasn’t enforceable, and so did the 37 of the state’s 39 sheriffs who opposed it,” Workman said. “The trouble is nobody listened to them. You’ve got this voting bloc from liberal Seattle and King County and they had a good turnout. And the Seattle metro area extends northward to the King County- Snohomish County line.”
Dan Cannon, owner and editor of GunsSaveLives.net, agrees that enforcement will be a sticky issue.
“I don’t understand how the state of Washington plans to enforce these new measures. It is common sense that in order to enforce background checks on private sales, you would need to have an up-to-date gun registry (which I adamantly oppose),” Cannon said via email. “Unless someone is caught red-handed transferring their firearm without a background check there is no plan for enforcement here. This means that this measure is simply another burden on law abiding gun owners and will do little to nothing to stop actual criminals from acquiring firearms illegally.”
Legal challenges possible
Gottlieb said his group and others will be exploring the possibility of mounting legal challenges to the new law.
The challenges would not be on Second Amendment grounds, because the U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld the constitutionality of background checks.
He said the background check fee was left undetermined and uncapped. But if, like most other states with background checks, the fee is between $20 and $50, “no court is going to throw that out.”
He said the law is most vulnerable to challenge on grounds that it violated state election law.
“There is the ‘single subject rule’ they must comply with for ballot initiatives,” he said. “They were very clever to try and tie several subjects together. We’re exploring that with legal counsel right now. We are exploring possible legal challenges but it would be based on election law not Second Amendment law.”
Gottlieb also believes there will be an enforcement issue because of I-594′s overreach.
“That’s why law enforcement did not support it. They’re concerned about enforceability and compliance,” Gottlieb said. “Because if you want to lend your friend your gun you’re going to do it anyway. You’re going to have a lot of law abiding people who are going to say ‘hey if I want to lend my friend a gun I’m just going to do it.’ There are going to be unintended consequences. I predict theft of firearms are going up because people want to get around this law.”
Gottlieb said that with Tuesday’s Republican wave, Washington state did elect several more pro-gun conservatives. And they will be called on to try to remedy any unintended consequences at the legislative level.
“Of course we did pick up some more pro-gun legislators but the problem is our governor (Jay Inslee),” Gottlieb said. “He was at the 594 victory party.”
The competing ballot initiative supported by Gottieb, I-591, was still not called by the Associated Press as of late Wednesday afternoon. It appears to have been narrowly defeated but election officials were still waiting for one final batch of votes from King County.
“They don’t know how many outstanding ballots are out there. We’re winning in at least 27 of the 39 counties, our problem is the Seattle media market outspent us 18 to 1. And if you take out King county we would have won,” Gottlieb said. “It’s liberal King County that controls the state.”
I-591 would ban any state background checks beyond what the federal government requires.