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Tuesday, December 10, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Competing state gun initiatives vie for police support

Law enforcement agencies may not be getting much love in most of the country after images of heavily armed cops filled news coverage of protests in Ferguson, Missouri. But here in Washington, the dueling gun initiatives are competing for the claim of “cops love my initiative better.”

Initiative 591 would keep background checks the way they are now – sales from licensed gun dealers covered, private sales not – until federal law says different. Its supporters counted first coup in the race for cop commendations with the endorsement of the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs. WACOPS, as the group with considerable clout is known around the Capitol, voted to go with I-591 and oppose Initiative 594 back in June after presentations on both measures.

I-594, which would require background checks for virtually all gun sales, has the louder bullhorn. Contributions from some well-heeled supporters both in and out of state have swelled the yes campaign’s take to more than $7 million. While they don’t have WACOPS in their corner, they are rolling out television commercials with former Washington cops. Last week they unveiled one with Don Pierce, former police chief of Bellingham, extolling the ability of background checks to “keep guns out of dangerous hands.”

Although Pierce is correctly identified as the former Bellingham chief, other parts of his resume don’t show up in the ad. He was also police chief in Boise from 2000-04, and perhaps more important for Washington political circles, the former legislative director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, the other big force on law enforcement issues around the Capitol. WASPC hasn’t taken a stand on the gun initiatives.

How much weight these endorsements carry is open to debate. Those who follow elections closely may recall that WACOPS and WASPC both opposed Initiative 502, the recreational marijuana law, in 2012. It passed. The previous year, law enforcement was split on Initiative 1183, the measure that took the state out of the liquor business. It also passed.

Some people would argue that nothing could have derailed I-1183 after Costco shelled out $20 million to pass the measure. But to be fair, the liquor distributors came up with about $12 million on the no side, so there was plenty of money sloshing around on that one.

The fight over gun initiatives won’t likely hit those contribution heights, but there is a significant imbalance. The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the pro I-594 campaign, is benefiting from largesse from some billionaires – yes, with a “b” – like locals Bill Gates and Paul Allen, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose Everytown for Gun Safety Fund kicked in a mil at the end of last month.

Protect Our Gun Rights, the pro I-591 campaign, has more than $1 million, most of it coming from two gun rights groups, Washington Arms Collectors and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Faced with the imbalance, Alan Gottlieb of the citizens committee has taken to issuing challenges to debate. First to Gates to “put his mouth where his money is” and later to Gates and Bloomberg to meet him 2 on 1. So far no takers.

Perhaps he will next offer to debate with one hand tied behind his back, standing on one foot, and blindfolded. With two months left in the campaign, almost anything is possible.

Kicking about education funding

The fight over public school spending has been going on so long in Olympia that the combatants apparently have run through all their new analogies and settled on an old standard: kicking the can down the road.

Thomas Ahearne, attorney for plaintiffs in the McCleary case, suggested that was what the Legislature would do unless the state Supreme Court came down hard on them. Gov. Jay Inslee used the can kicking analogy the next day in saying what the Legislature shouldn’t do, without being terribly specific about what they should.

One wonders about the appropriateness of the phrase in the context of adequately providing for the schoolchildren of today. Have many of them actually played kick the can? Not likely.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments at

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