The politics of Initiative 594 – background checks on private weapons sales – bear a resemblance to those of Initiative 502, the ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana in Washington.
In both cases, the state was moving beyond federal regulations. In both cases, we believe it would have been better for a deliberative body (the Legislature) to hold the debate and shape the law. And in both cases, the Legislature didn’t come through, so citizens gathered signatures and got the issues placed on the ballot.
We knew implementing I-502’s complex rules posed some daunting challenges. We know I-594 may need some follow-up work to clarify terms and work out other details. But as with I-502, we don’t see the potential hurdles as insurmountable, and we endorse the overall idea.
I-594 would expand the background checks to virtually all private sales, including gun show and online transactions. Such checks already occur for sales at licensed stores. The purpose is to make it more difficult for felons, domestic violence offenders and the seriously mentally ill to illegally obtain firearms. The parties in a sale would pay a licensed seller to conduct the same checks that occur in-store.
Critics have combed through the initiative to pick out potential unintended consequences, and dream up fantastical scenarios. But their chief concern is that increased data generation would inevitably lead to the government confiscating weapons. That’s far-fetched, because there is scant legal or political support for such a draconian move.
The Department of Licensing has kept records of handgun sales at licensed retail outlets since the 1970s. Critics of this record-keeping cannot point to a single instance in which those records have been misused. There’s no reason to believe this will occur with private-sale records.
The fear of arrests over sharing weapons at shooting ranges or lending them to extended family members is a red herring. Even if the term “transfer” were as expansive as critics allege, police and deputy sheriffs are far too busy to pounce on such minor infractions.
Don’t be distracted. The issue is requiring background checks for private sales.
Initiative 591 would maintain the status quo, meaning the state could not go beyond federal law, which requires checks only on gun sales at licensed stores. Proponents tout this as “uniformity,” but they’d be against Congress passing a law to match Washington’s if I-594 were to pass.
If you’re confused as to why proponents don’t simply run a “No on I-594” campaign, well, that’s the point. A yes vote on both would probably nullify I-594. The last time there were two competing initiatives (related to medical malpractice) voters turned down both. That would be fine with I-591 backers.
Don’t be taken in. Vote yes on I-594 and no on I-591. It’s the only combination of votes that will expand background checks and help deter the sale of weapons to people who, by law, should not have them.
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