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Currently, guns sold at shows, in classified ads and online do not require a background check. I-594 backers argue this makes it easy for criminals to buy guns. I-594 would mean all gun sales and transfers are required to get a background check. The only exceptions would be if the gun is an antique or is given to a family member as a gift. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Dueling gun initiatives seek opposite outcomes on universal background checks

Washington has dueling gun initiatives on the November ballot. I-594 and I-591 seek to do the opposite of each other when it comes to universal background checks.

Both can be easily mixed up thanks to their numerical closeness, but you can think of it as I-594 is "for" background checks.

Currently, guns sold at shows, in classified ads and online do not require a background check. I-594 backers argue this makes it easy for criminals to buy guns. I-594 would mean all gun sales and transfers are required to get a background check. The only exceptions would be if the gun is an antique or is given to a family member as a gift.

Sixteen other states have laws similar to I-594.

I-591 seeks to do two things: First, make it illegal for a government agency to confiscate guns without due process; second, make it illegal for any government agency to require universal background checks unless that standard is adopted nationally.

Alan Gottlieb is the chair for I-591, and I asked why there's concern about the government confiscating firearms when he admitted there is no case of that happening in our state.

"We haven't had it happen yet in Washington," said Gottlieb. "We do have a law on the books that in case of state emergencies, local elected officials and the governor can suspend Second Amendment rights. We had to go to court in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina to overturn that stop in New Orleans, where 1,100 people had their firearms confiscated without due process. We went to court and it took several years to get their guns back. We're seeing similar things happen right now in New York and New Jersey and California and a few other states so we're trying to make sure it doesn't happen here. It's a preemptive protection of Second Amendment rights."

Why are supporters of I-591 against universal background checks being adopted by our state?

"Criminals cross state lines. All you'd have to do is go to Idaho and buy a gun and bring it back, or, go over to Oregon and buy a gun and bring it back. (That gun buyer) didn't break any Washington law and they had the gun anyway. So in order for background checks to work at all, it has to be national."

When asked multiple times if Gottlieb supports universal background checks at a national level, he would not provide a definitive yes or no answer.

Gottlieb said universal background checks on a national level are reasonable with exceptions. "You shouldn't have to get a background check every single time you buy a firearm. If you have the permit in your hand and you already own firearms to begin with, there's no public safety that could possibly be solved by that."

The only way to solve the problem of criminals getting their hands on guns, according to Gottlieb, is to put more money into the parole system so known felons are checked on more often.

Meanwhile, I-594's communications manager Geoff Potter said this initiative is very simple.

"It takes the exact system that has been in place for decades in Washington state for background checks for licensed sellers, and applies it to all sales," said Potter. "It's the same system that gun store owners and hunters and target shooters and anybody who uses firearms is familiar with and has been used for a very long time."

They're trying to prevent a scenario that's a reality in which two people can meet in a parking lot and trade a gun for cash - no questions asked.

"This is a common sense measure that has proven to be effective in other states," said Potter.

In the 16 other states that have adopted universal background checks, Potter said they've seen crime statistics drop.

"The states that close this background check loophole have seen 38 percent fewer women shot to death by handguns by their partners, 39 percent fewer law enforcement shot to death with handguns," he said. "We've seen that the federal background check system has prevented 200 million prohibited purchasers - people who are barred from owning guns and getting their hands on guns - since it was put into place."

The dueling initiatives are on two very different playing fields with three times the amount of donations coming in for I-594.

The I-594 campaign now has more than $3 million.

Recently, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife donated a combined $580,000. Bill and Melinda Gates donated $50,000 and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer and his mother gave a combined $490,000. Paul Allen also threw his support behind I-594 with a $500,000 donation.

I-591, on the other hand, has just $1 million, with donations from groups like the Washington Arms Collectors, which Alan Gottleib said represents 20,000 people.


Colleen O'Brien, KIRO Radio Morning News Anchor
Colleen O'Brien anchors The Morning News on KIRO Radio, weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m.
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