Arguing for, and against, I-1639 gun control regulations
If I-1639 passes, it would make Washington’s gun laws among the strictest in the nation. At the same time it would mark a hard fought victory for Paul Kramer, the Mukilteo man sponsoring the initiative.
In 2016, a 19 year old armed with an AR-15 walked into a house party in Mukilteo and opened fire. Three teens were killed and a fourth, Kramer’s 18-year-old son, was severely injured.
The teenage gunman was upset about a break-up with his girlfriend who was at the party. He was able to legally buy his AR-15 a week before the shooting. He was reading the manual for the gun in his car, outside the home, right before the shooting.
I-1639 is a sweeping gun safety initiative. Kramer says if the provisions in the initiative were in effect in 2016, the shooter would not have been able to buy the assault rifle.
“A person would need to be 21 years old; they will go through an enhanced background check,” Kramer said. “There will also be a 10-day waiting period for the purchase [of semi-automatic rifles]. There’s a safety training requirement in advance of purchase. Separately, there’s also an additional component in Initiative 1639 that incentivizes safe storage for all firearms.”
That safe storage requirement is one of the top reasons gun rights groups are against this initiative, according to Dave Workman at the GunMag.com.
“We’re talking about a constitutional right to have a gun here, and still, the initiative doesn’t really define what they think secure storage is,” Workman said. “They just say you need to do that or we can have you charged with either a gross misdemeanor or a class C felony. Now, if you’re charged with a class C felony and convicted you lose your gun rights forever.”
The initiative says a person can be charged with the new crime of “community endangerment” if they leave a gun somewhere they know, or should reasonably know that someone not legally allowed to have a gun – someone can get it — and the person ends up using it in a crime. The initiative also mentions lock boxes, gun safes other locked storage spaces designed to stop unauthorized access to guns and trigger locks as examples of safe storage that would suffice.
Safe storage is not the only issue gun owners have with I-1639.
“There’s a major concern on the part of a lot of people about the requirement to waive your medical privacy when you purchase a semi-automatic rifle of any kind. This waiver allows someone at the department of licensing or a police agency or whomever to get into your private medical files just to see if you’re qualified to own a firearm,” Workman said.
Washington law already requires people buying handguns to sign a confidentiality waiver like the one in the initiative when buying handguns. I-1639 extends that requirement two semi-automatic purchases as well.
“People share some of their personal information so that background check can be conducted and that really needs to take place so that collectively we can keep the guns out of dangerous hands,” Kramer explained.
The initiative also requires the state to start running annual background checks on people after they buy a semi-automatic rifle or handgun.
To offset the cost of the extra background checks, there will be a $25 fee (which could go up) added to purchases of semi-automatic rifles, which is another concern for gun rights advocates, as is the firearms training course requirement.
Workman says the initiative is also too broad in its definition of semi-automatic assault rifles, and punishes law abiding gun owners.
Some law enforcement groups, including the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police, Washington Council of Police & Sheriffs, the Washington State Sheriffs Association and others have come out against the initiative for reasons ranging from its complexity, 2nd Amendment violation concerns, and its lack of exemptions for police. Some say it is unenforceable and will do nothing to protect the public.
Others in law enforcement support the initiative, however.
For the gun rights side the largest concern is the erosion of rights.
“First, you stop an age group from owning a gun, then you stop everybody from owning a gun,” Workman said.
“If it becomes fashionable to deny somebody a civil right or to ban a certain class of firearms it’s going to be easier to sell the next ban later on,” he added.
Kramer argues that the initiative aligns the age requirement to buy a semi-automatic rifle with requirements to guy a handgun. He says while it includes additional safety measures, it does not ban anything. For Kramer the motivation behind the I-1639 is simple.
“No family should have to suffer the pain and tragedy from a mass shooting that mine did,” he said. “Initiative 1639 will make sure they don’t. It will reduce gun violence and it will save lives.”
Spending on the Initiative is lopsided, with several groups, including the NRA putting about $720,000 into the “no” campaign. More than $5.4 million was raised in the “yes” campaign — top donors include Nick Hanaeur, Steve Ballmer and the late Paul Allen, among others.
If I-1639 passes, multiple legal challenges are expected. If it doesn’t, Kramer says he’ll keep fighting and pressuring lawmakers in both Washingtons for sensible gun laws.