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Court must decide if I-1639 will make November ballot

Ballots are counted in Renton. (AP)

In a major blow to gun control advocates, a Thurston County judge has blocked Initiative 1639 from going to the November ballot.

I-1639 a sweeping gun control measure that, among other things, raises the age to buy a semi-automatic rifle to 21, increases background checks, and also includes safe storage accountability and a whole lot more in the 30-page initiative.

Alan Gottlieb, with the Second Amendment Foundation, is among those suing to block the initiative.

Gottlieb said, “The basic argument in the case was the sponsors of the initiative did not comply with the state constitution or the state law in having a true, correct, readable copy of the initiative on the backside for the people who signed it to be able to read it. As a result, what the people signed wasn’t the initiative that would be on the ballot.”

The specific issue was that the print was too small to read, and that it also did not include strike-throughs and underlines where changes or deletions to current law were made — making it confusing to people signing the ballot.

The judge agreed that the formatting was illegal and ordered the Secretary of State to stop the certification process.

Backers of I-1639 immediately appealed, asking the state Supreme Court for an expedited review.

Democratic State Senator David Frockt is disappointed with the judge’s decision.

“You know the Supreme Court has a big decision on whether or not they’re going to ignore the 380,000 people who put their names on the signature effort,” Frockt said. “I don’t think it was unclear to them what they were signing and what they were advocating for even if you look at the language that was on the back of the ballot.”

It’s the same argument backers of the initiative made in court, blaming a contractor error for the lack of strike-throughs and underlines, but pointing out that every word of the initiative was printed on the back of the signature petition, including all additions and deletions to current law.

Frockt had a bill [SB 6620] in the Senate last session that was very similar to I-1639, but didn’t go quite as far.

It never got a floor vote and if I-1639 does not make it to the November ballot, Frockt said he will introduce a new bill identical to the initiative in the Legislature this session. This time he’ll call for an up or down vote.

“I think there is certainly strong support on the Democratic side, but not universal support for the kinds of things that are in 1639,” Frockt said. “There is some support quietly on the Republican side, certainly not majority support but there are some Republicans who would support this.”

Frockt added he was extremely frustrated his bill from last session never got a floor vote.

“On something as important as this after Parkland, after Las Vegas, after incidents in our own state in Mukilteo, in Freeman it’s important for the people to know where their legislators stand, I mean we are elected to make difficult decisions. I have had to take votes on things that are tough issues for me in my district for one reason or another, that’s why we’re here,” Frockt said.

He added, “It bothers me greatly that we could not get a bill to the floor, even though it was an election year, of something of great statewide and national significance.”

Frockt believes it’s clear the voters support the new gun safety regulations, so lawmakers need to make their positions known.

“The people, certainly with 380,000 signatures had indicated that they want something done on this and the polling shows that.  And so we need to quit, and I say not ‘we’ because not everybody’s ducking it, but as a whole, the Legislature needs to quit ducking the issue and vote on the components of this bill and try to do something on safety, on firearms safety and so that’s what I hope will happen,” Frockt said.

Aside from the formatting issue, Gottlieb said there are other issues with the initiative.

“It’s an egregious attack on firearms rights an citizens of Washington state and it goes into multiple areas of state law,” Gottlieb said. “It’s not a single subject initiative and as a result, it pulls people in from all areas where they want to support something that’s in it but not everything that’s in it.”

I-1639 goes even further than Frockt’s bill did, specifically by including a safe storage requirement that could lead to criminal charges — in some cases — should a gun owner’s weapons end up in the wrong hands. It also includes a waiting period, mandatory training for people buying semi-automatic rifles, new documentation rules that gun rights advocates argue amounts to a registry, and annual re-checks on owners of semi-automatic rifles to ensure they’re still legally eligible to own a weapon.

Senator Frockt said it’s just common sense.

“You know you ought to have the same type of background check for a handgun as you would have for a semi-automatic rifle or a semi-automatic assault rifle and that’s not really that controversial,” Frockt said. “You know if you’ve got to be 21 to buy a handgun, at a minimum, you should have to be 21 to buy an assault rifle. It’s complicated, it’s not easy  because there are technical things that make this issue tricky. But the basic premise is these are the types of things that we ought to do to keep our community safer.”

As for what happens from here, the deadline to print ballots is September 1.

The Secretary of State has asked for the state Supreme Court to rule before August 31 to ensure they have time to get military and overseas ballots out. Expecting an appeal, the court had already set aside August 28 to hear any arguments should they be necessary, according to Gottlieb.

One expert tells The Seattle Times the court will likely allow I-1639 to go to the ballot because, historically, it has been hesitant to knock initiatives off the ballot over technical issues.

A decision is expected by late next week for both I-1639, and I-940 — a police accountability initiative also in the hands of the state Supreme Court.

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