Nation/World


Initiative 676 Triggers Costly Fight Over Gun Safety, Control Poll Finds Strong Opposition In East; Lukewarm Support On West Side Of State

Dead kids or dead grandmas?

Handgun safety or pistol confiscation? Reasonable or unconstitutional?

The answers aren’t easy in the campaign over Washington Initiative 676, the gun control measure on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The battle over the initiative has turned into one of the most vitriolic, and expensive, in state history.

Proponents, who report getting death threats, won’t put out campaign signs in Eastern Washington, where polls show the measure is particularly unpopular.

“They’d last about 20 minutes,” said Tom Wales of Seattle, a federal prosecutor who is a co-chairman of the Yes on 676 campaign.

One Spokane Valley gun shop owner has a reader board outside his store that says, “To Hell With Bill Gates, No on 676.” Gates, the Microsoft billionaire, and his father have contributed nearly $200,000 to the Yes on 676 campaign.

In the Seattle-Tacoma area, where roughly half of the state’s voters live, the initiative is leading. But even there, less than half the voters surveyed two weeks before the election said they plan to vote for I-676.

Statewide, the survey showed the initiative is trailing, with the “no” vote nearing 50 percent.

Another sign the initiative is in trouble: While women usually support gun control; less than half of women voters surveyed said they plan to vote for I-676.

The poll shows some elements of the initiative - that people who buy guns should be required to prove they know how to use them safely and that the state should require handgun buyers to have a license - have strong support statewide.

But the million dollar-plus campaign that opponents are waging may be overcoming support for such broad concepts with opposition to poorly worded sections of the initiative.

Supporters may have two generations of Gates’ and former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. Opponents have Tanya Metaksa, the high-powered lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, and Charlton Heston.

At a recent opposition rally in Spokane, movie star and NRA vice president Heston called the initiative evil and devilish.

“It’s ugly out there,” Wales said.

Costly, too.

Supporters had spent nearly $600,000 as of last week, including more than $137,000 on commercials in Spokane. Opponents had spent more than $1 million statewide, with at least $171,000 on the Spokane airways.

The NRA, which sees the initiative as a potentially devastating blow to gun rights, has contributed more than $1 million to fight the proposal.

The group’s recent campaign has targeted women, suggesting that they could be arrested if they were left home alone with their husband’s gun and didn’t have a license.

Supporters believe - and opponents fear - that the initiative could set a precedent. About a dozen other states have laws requiring licenses or permits for handguns, and nearly a score require some type of safety training or competency training before a concealed weapon permit is issued. Two require trigger locks for handguns.

But this would be the most comprehensive law, and unlike the others that came from legislatures, this would come directly from the voters.

Supporters claim the initiative is a reasonable safety measure that will save kids’ lives.

Initiative 676 would require the state’s 1 million pistol owners to pass a class or take an eight-hour safety course in order to get a state license. It also mandates trigger locks for every handgun sold or given away.

If the initiative fails, more kids will die or be hurt in preventable handgun accidents, supporters say.

Each side has favorite anecdotes to shore up its rhetoric.

Supporters cite the recent case of Andre Anderson Jr., a 5-year-old King County boy who accidentally shot himself in the stomach while playing with his father’s loaded handgun.

Anderson is recovering from the August accident. His mother, Beverly Clemente, recently began lobbying for passage of I-676.

“If I-676 can prevent the tragic death or injury of only one child, then it merits the approval of Washington voters,” said Jean Gardner, co-chairwoman of the Yes on 676 campaign.

Opponents say the measure could prevent law-abiding residents from defending themselves against armed intruders.

One of their favorite examples: A pair of Moses Lake grandmothers who fought off four would-be robbers by firing several shots from a Luger.

“If we had had a lock on the gun, we’d be dead,” said Marty Killinger, one of the “pistol-packing grandmas” who attended a recent opposition rally in Spokane.

The initiative, however, does not require handguns to be stored with trigger locks. “Our hope is that people will lock their handguns up when they’re not home but their children are,” Wales said.

Opponents also contend the initiative will make criminals out of people who don’t even use handguns, such as the unlicensed spouses of gun owners, and could lead to government agents confiscating pistols.

They are particularly upset that the state Department of Licensing will have a database containing the names and addresses of everyone with a handgun safety license.

“This is just the government trying to take control of the American people,” Killinger said. “It’s the same thing Hitler did.”

During a recent debate with Spokane Police Chief Terry Mangan, Wales disputed arguments that the initiative is unconstitutional or a conspiracy to ban all handguns.

“The state Supreme Court has said for nearly 100 years that there are some reasonable restrictions on our right to bear arms,” said Wales, who called it a moderate proposal. “We currently have more regulations for teddy bears and toy guns.”

Wales said the measure is about one thing: safety.

The state Department of Health reports that 241 children were killed or wounded in accidental shootings from 1991 to 1994.

In 1995, 10 people died and 76 were hospitalized in accidental shootings, according to state health officials.

Initiative 676 isn’t a panacea, but training and trigger locks will reduce the number of accidental shootings and “make people smarter about the way they treat handguns,” Wales said.

He points to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found unintentional shooting deaths among children decreased by nearly 23 percent in 12 states with laws requiring trigger locks or other safe storage devices for guns.

Mangan called those numbers a smoke screen. Accidental injuries and deaths from handguns have been declining steadily for decades, he said.

“You’re 36 times more likely to die in a car accident than in a gun accident,” Mangan said. “Nor will this law make irresponsible people any more responsible. There is no guarantee that this will lead to any more child safety.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo Graphic: East Side pulling 676 down

MEMO: For a summary, the full text, and past articles about Initiative 676, log on to The Spokesman-Review’s Web site, Virtually Northwest, at www.virtuallynw.com, and click on “Election Central.”

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. INITIATIVE 676 WOULD: Require an operable trigger lock to be provided with every handgun sold, loaned, delivered, or transferred in any way to another person. Require gun owners to pass a test in order to obtain a safety license and lawfully own their gun. Allow police to confiscate handguns that are not legally owned. Require the license to be renewed every five years. Release confidential medical records to police or courts to determine a person’s fitness to own a gun.

2. ‘HOME ALONE’ Background: This 30-second television commercial in opposition to Initiative 676 is sponsored by the National Rifle Association. It shows a woman at home alone in the evening, making tea and reading a newspaper, while an announcer warns that women who don’t have licenses for their husbands’ guns “risk being a criminal in your own home.” The commercial closes with a scene of the front door, with police lights flashing outside and someone pounding on the door. Campaign response: Mike Seely of SafetyFirst calls the ad a “bogus claim” because it takes the extreme view that law enforcement officers have nothing better to do than go into homes looking for people who don’t have a license. Rebuttal: Dave LaCourse of Washington Citizens Against Regulatory Excess argues the proposed law is so vague it could be subject to such a broad interpretation. The initiative even seems to anticipate such confiscations, he said, because it allows for guns that are seized to be claimed by their owners within 60 days. Analysis: This ad - and a similar radio commercial that features two women discussing the same aspect of I-676 - attempt to convince female voters, the majority of whom traditionally support gun-control proposals, to oppose the initiative. Prosecutors, who have criticized the proposal as vague, say gun-possession laws are a muddy area. The scenario is unlikely because the initiative would make unlicensed handgun possession an infraction the first time it happens - and police can’t get a search warrant by suspecting someone is committing a mere infraction. Subsequent violations are misdemeanors, and finally felonies, which can be the basis for search warrants. An actual conviction would depend on the facts of the situation, prosecutors added.

For a summary, the full text, and past articles about Initiative 676, log on to The Spokesman-Review’s Web site, Virtually Northwest, at www.virtuallynw.com, and click on “Election Central.”

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. INITIATIVE 676 WOULD: Require an operable trigger lock to be provided with every handgun sold, loaned, delivered, or transferred in any way to another person. Require gun owners to pass a test in order to obtain a safety license and lawfully own their gun. Allow police to confiscate handguns that are not legally owned. Require the license to be renewed every five years. Release confidential medical records to police or courts to determine a person’s fitness to own a gun.

2. ‘HOME ALONE’ Background: This 30-second television commercial in opposition to Initiative 676 is sponsored by the National Rifle Association. It shows a woman at home alone in the evening, making tea and reading a newspaper, while an announcer warns that women who don’t have licenses for their husbands’ guns “risk being a criminal in your own home.” The commercial closes with a scene of the front door, with police lights flashing outside and someone pounding on the door. Campaign response: Mike Seely of SafetyFirst calls the ad a “bogus claim” because it takes the extreme view that law enforcement officers have nothing better to do than go into homes looking for people who don’t have a license. Rebuttal: Dave LaCourse of Washington Citizens Against Regulatory Excess argues the proposed law is so vague it could be subject to such a broad interpretation. The initiative even seems to anticipate such confiscations, he said, because it allows for guns that are seized to be claimed by their owners within 60 days. Analysis: This ad - and a similar radio commercial that features two women discussing the same aspect of I-676 - attempt to convince female voters, the majority of whom traditionally support gun-control proposals, to oppose the initiative. Prosecutors, who have criticized the proposal as vague, say gun-possession laws are a muddy area. The scenario is unlikely because the initiative would make unlicensed handgun possession an infraction the first time it happens - and police can’t get a search warrant by suspecting someone is committing a mere infraction. Subsequent violations are misdemeanors, and finally felonies, which can be the basis for search warrants. An actual conviction would depend on the facts of the situation, prosecutors added.



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