Eastern Washington was leading the state Tuesday in rejecting a measure to license handgun owners and require trigger locks for their firearms.
Initiative 676 was trailing by wide margins in 37 counties that reported early results.
The spread east of the mountains was huge, with eight out of every 10 voters rejecting the measure.
Even in King County, where the initiative was conceived nine months ago, voters were saying no.
“A lot of people didn’t like it, and with good reason,” said Robin Ball, who owns a Spokane shooting range where an opposition party was held Tuesday night. “We’re drinking apple cider and cutting the cake right now.”
Final results may not be available for days, since one-third of Washington voters were expected to cast their ballots by mail.
Under I-676, most of Washington’s estimated 1 million handgun owners would have to pass an exam or take an eight-hour safety course to qualify for a $25 safety license.
The Department of Licensing would have 14 months to implement the program.
The measure also would require that trigger-locking devices be included with handguns sold or transferred in the state, a concept endorsed by President Clinton and recently adopted by a number of handgun manufacturers. Use of the locks, which range in price from $5 to $90, would not be required.
Foes predicted that I-676 would prompt thousands of people to apply for concealed weapons permits, since the initiative would allow people with those permits to delay getting a safety license until as late as 2004.
The 6,000-member Washington State Council of Police Officers and various police guilds around the state opposed the measure on the grounds that it would be cumbersome, unenforceable and unsafe.
Initiative sponsors said the measure would reduce accidental shooting deaths and injuries, particularly involving children, by providing the training and equipment necessary to safely use and store a handgun.
Washington voters apparently didn’t buy it.
The rejection provides a huge boost to the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups across the nation, which saw the initiative as an erosion of the Second Amendment.
The NRA poured more than $2 million into the campaign against the proposal and sent its movie star spokesman, Charlton Heston, to whip up the opposition. During an appearance in Spokane last month, Heston called the measure “evil” and “devilish.”
Mike Seely of Washington Citizens for Handgun Safety said his group couldn’t compete with the NRA’s advertising blitz, even though the initiative was backed by some of the Seattle area’s wealthiest citizens, including Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.
“When someone comes in from out of state and spends that kind of money, there’s only so much you can do to get your message out,” Seely said. “And you can say whatever you want to in advertisements.”
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