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Court rejects bid to keep gun-control measure off ballot

UPDATED: Thu., July 5, 2018, 2:45 p.m.

OLYMPIA – The Temple of Justice on the Capitol Campus, the home of the Washington Supreme Court. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)
OLYMPIA – The Temple of Justice on the Capitol Campus, the home of the Washington Supreme Court. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – The Washington Supreme Court will not give gun-rights groups the order they requested to keep a gun control initiative off the November ballot.

Court Commissioner Michael Johnston ruled Tuesday the law doesn’t allow opponents to have the court order Secretary of State Kim Wyman to reject petitions for Initiative 1639 that are expected to be submitted later this week.

I-1639 calls for several changes in state gun control laws, including restrictions on the sale of military-style semi-automatic rifles. Some parts of the initiative have been proposed in the Legislature but never passed. (Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the initiative includes a ban on bump stocks.)

The Second Amendment Foundation, the Citizens Right to Keep and Bear Arms and some voters asked the court Friday to keep Wyman from processing the petitions, contending the print is so small it’s unreadable and the changes in law aren’t properly marked on the petitions.

But the court doesn’t have the legal authority to tell Wyman to reject an initiative, Johnston wrote.

Wyman has the legal authority to reject initiative petitions that she determines are deficient, but otherwise would have to file them. Judicial review can only occur if she refuses to accept them, and then only if the initiative’s sponsors go to court.

On Tuesday afternoon, Wyman issued a statement saying she will follow the law in evaluating “fairly and impartially” whether to accept initiatives, which include whether the petitions contain all the language required.

“State law clearly defines the authority my office has for accepting or rejecting petitions,” she said.

Opponents can’t go to court to keep an initiative off the ballot, Johnston wrote: “The opponents’ interests in this matter are protected by their constitutional right to express opposition to the initiative, including urging voters to reject it at the polls.”

If the sponsors submit valid petitions, he wrote, Wyman has to accept them.

Sponsors of I-1639 are scheduled to turn in signatures Thursday.