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I-1639: Washington state’s latest gun control initiative

(AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Efforts to pass stricter gun laws in Washington failed in the Legislature this year, such as raising the age limit to buy semi-automatic rifles. But voters could get the final say if backers of I-1639 can gather enough signatures over the next few weeks.

RELATED: Seattle proposes new gun control measures

After some legal challenges over the ballot title of I-1639 were settled by a Thurston County Judge last week, backers of the initiative started an aggressive signature campaign under a tight deadline. They need to turn in about 260,000 valid signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office by July 6 to get the initiative on the November ballot.


I-1639 includes sweeping changes to the state’s gun laws, especially concerning semi-automatic rifles such as AR-15s.

Tallman Trask is with the Alliance For Gun Responsibility, the group behind the statewide initiative.

“The goal here is really to make sure that our schools and our communities are safe from the kind of gun violence that terrorizes our country and even our state and city regularly, and all too often,” Trask said. “To do that, it does three really important interconnected things: Raise the age to purchase semi-automatic assault weapons in the state to 21 from the current age of 18; It will create enhanced background checks for those weapons.”

The third major component of I-1639 is related to safe storage of guns. It promotes charging gun owners if someone not allowed to have a gun gets a hold of their firearm because it wasn’t safely stored. That crime would be community endangerment and could range from a misdemeanor to a felony depending on how the gun is used.

Much like a bill (SB 6620) that failed in the Legislature this past session, those increased background checks for semiautomatic rifles would mean putting the buyer through both a federal and state background check. This is similar to what handgun customers in Washington currently go through. Right now, people buying semi-automatic rifles only have to pass the federal background check.

Safe storage

Dave Workman with The Gun Mag says that’s an issue for gun owners.

“A lot of gun owners are worried that no matter how they store that firearm, if it’s taken and used in a crime they’re going to get penalized by the state because they didn’t have their gun secured well enough to prevent it from being taken,” Workman said. “Safe storage is really a subjective issue here. For some people that just requires leaving a gun inside your house, which is locked, while you’re not away. Beyond that, not everybody can afford a gun safe. Some people revert to various locking devices. Some of them are just cable locks and you can slip a cable lock with a good pair of wire cutters or bolt cutters. So, there is that concern that it’s gong to discourage firearms ownership.”

Trask argues safe storage is about saving lives.

“Between 2012 and 2015 a total of more than 33,000 firearms were stolen from individual gun owners in Washington and that puts firearms into a black market and into dangerous hands and gets people access to guns that they just really shouldn’t have in a really obvious way,” Trask said. “Dangerous access prevention helps prevent that by helping incentivize secure storage practices which limit theft opportunities. It also helps prevent school shootings. We know the majority of school shooters access firearms in their homes or homes of their friends or family.”

Other concerns

Beyond the safe storage requirement, Workman says gun owners have a lot of other concerns with this I-1639.

“I think the major concerns are that it denies Second Amendment rights … Constitutional rights to people 18-20 or 18-21 years old,” Workman said. “There’s also a concern about the waiting period, 10 days, and a training requirement to exercise a constitutional right and the creation of a registry.”

The initiative calls for a 10-day waiting period for the sale of semi-automatic rifles, and also requires those who buy them to go through a firearms training course. There are also new record keeping requirements that gun rights advocates argue is a defacto registry.

Another aspect of this initiative would require the Department of Licensing develop a cost effective system that verifies a gun owner remains legally allowed to have a gun on an annual basis.

“We don’t want people to have restraining orders or who have established criminal history, after they have purchased these weapons, to suddenly be allowed to hold on to them with no guarantee from the Department of Licensing that they’re going to be prevented from accessing those weapons in the future,” Trask said. “It’s an important part of gun violence prevention to not only make sure that we are preventing people who are dangerous to themselves or others from purchasing guns, but also that we’re reducing risk and access.”

I-1639 also allows DOL to charge people buying a semi-automatic rifle a new fee of up to $25 to cover the additional administrative costs that come along with the increased background check requirements, and new requirements for gun dealers to provide buyers information about increased risks associated with guns, including suicide.

Correction: An early version of this story referred to one of the components of I-1639 as an “enhanced” background check. It has been changed to “increased” background check.


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