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Gun control initiative puts Sec. of State Wyman in awkward position

Opponents to the I-1639 gun initiative launch a lawsuit contending the measure is not on legal footing. (Photo: MyNorthwest)

Washington’s Secretary of State Kim Wyman is in an awkward position. On one hand, the state’s Supreme Court has referred a controversial gun control initiative to her to make a decision. On the other hand, state law does not giver her that authority.

RELATED: What’s in Washington’s latest gun control initiative

“My role is an administrative role of overseeing the initiative process …” Wyman told KTTH Radio’s Todd Herman. “If I can just go to the court and ask for clarification, that would be easy, but I actually have to sue someone in that process. If I do that, it muddies the water for the rest of the process for me to be a fair arbitrator and umpire.”

Opponents sued over alleged violations of state initiative regulations — signature gathers did not present the initiative language properly. The lawsuit went to the Supreme Court, which sent it back to Wyman’s office to accept or reject the petition. But Wyman said that her legal team has looked at case law and the state constitution. She says that she does not have the legal authority to reject a petition because it doesn’t meet requirements in the RCW.

I-1639 and Kim Wyman

Initiative 1639 would make various modifications to gun control laws in Washington state such as changing the age to purchase some firearms and requiring safe storage of guns. Backers say they have collected more than 360,000 signatures; they only need 260,000 to validate the initiative.

But gun rights activists have fought it. That fight includes the lawsuit. Opponents argue that I-1639 proponents did not follow correct procedure when gathering signatures — they printed text in tiny font, and they did not present the initiative language showing how state law would change.

“We’ve gone back and looked at initiatives that have been submitted before – we’ve never seen one with this format,” Wyman said. “They literally included word-for-word everything they submitted when they first turned in their initiative. All the words are there, but it’s the way and the manner in which they presented them that is different … It’s the way they are presented that can be confusing to some,” she said.

The petitions submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office does not include any strike-throughs or underlined language that would indicate how the law would be changed. Wyman also notes that the font was quite small on the petition. She estimates a 6 point font size. It’s very hard to read. Petitions are required to be readable and be a full copy of the measure.

Wyman said that “serious concerns” have been raised about the petition, not only by people in her own office, but Washingtonians in general.

Court clarification

While Wyman can easily say that the petitions are not up to snuff, she can’t reject them either. State law dictates what she can deny a petition for — if there aren’t enough signatures; if they are not turned in on time; and if the petition doesn’t include the proper state oath. Beyond that, she has to accept a petition. She therefore has accepted I-1639.

Which goes back to the awkward positions Wyman is in.

There is one action that could provide some clarity on the matter.

“My understanding is that the opponents of this initiative, because I have accepted this petition, plan to go to the court to seek injunctive relief,” Wyman said. “Because I lack the discretion to be able to do that in state statute. I welcome that clarity that the court could provide.”

“My concern, also, is the long-term implications of submitting a petition with 2 point font,” she said. “The court needs to clarify, on a constitution basis, the implications of this.”


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