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Washington voters approve measure expanding gun background checks

Rachel La Corte Associated Press

SEATTLE – Washington voters have approved expanding background checks on gun sales and transfers and have rejected a measure that would have prevented any expansion beyond a federal standard.

Initiative 591, which was rejected, was one of two rival gun measures on Tuesday’s ballot. It would have also prohibited the confiscation of firearms without due process.

On Tuesday, voters strongly approved an initiative that creates a universal background check requirement. Initiative 594 requires background checks on all sales and transfers, including private transactions and many loans and gifts. It had especially strong support in King County.

Like federal law, Washington law currently requires checks for sales or transfers by licensed dealers but not for purchases from private sellers, like those who sell at gun shows or to friends. The expansion measure was designed to include most private sales and transfers. It has exceptions for emergency gun transfers concerning personal safety, gifts between family members, antiques and loans for hunting.

“When elected officials couldn’t stand up to the gun lobby, the people did,” said Zach Silk, campaign manager for the expansion measure.

Supporters of expansion raised more than $10.3 million, with large donations from several prominent proponents like Bill and Melinda Gates and Paul Allen, a Microsoft co-founder. Everytown for Gun Safety, a group funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, donated more than $1 million to the campaign and spent nearly $1 million more through its political action committee. Bloomberg separately donated an additional $285,000.

The rival measure, Initiative 591, would prevent the state from expanding checks beyond what’s called for in federal law. It was trailing in several counties in Western Washington with the highest voter concentration.

A message left with the I-591 campaign late Wednesday was not immediately returned, but earlier in the day, spokesman Alan Gottlieb noted that that they were leading in 28 of the state’s 39 counties but that they could not overcome the ads run by opponents in the voter-rich market in Seattle in King County.

The National Rifle Association raised nearly half a million dollars to fight the expansion measure but did not endorse I-591, which spent just over a million dollars on its campaign.

Another statewide measure that would limit class sizes was too close to call Wednesday.

Votes show opinions were virtually tied on Initiative 1351, which would limit class sizes at every grade level. Critics say the initiative would put pressure on the state’s strapped budget. Voters overwhelmingly approved a class size reduction initiative in 2000.

The vote margin is so close, the secretary of state’s office has put the class size measure on a short list of ballot items that could trigger an automatic recount.

An automatic recount occurs if the margin is 2,000 votes or less and less than one-half a percentage point. Also on the potential recount list are three House races.

In other races Tuesday, Republicans were poised to take outright control of the state Senate, and a first-of-its-kind, all-Republican U.S. House race was tight.

In Washington’s 4th Congressional District, Dan Newhouse was narrowly leading fellow GOP candidate Clint Didier in a race that marked the first time in state history that two members of the same party appeared on the fall ballot for a U.S. House seat.

Didier, a former NFL player and tea party favorite, was not conceding in the battle to replace retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings for the Central Washington seat.

“A lot of votes out there still,” Didier campaign manager Larry Stickney said Wednesday.

Newhouse, a mainstream conservative, stopped short of declaring victory Tuesday.

“For those of you who may have supported the other candidate in this race, I plan to work hard to represent you to the best of my abilities,” Newhouse said in a statement.

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