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Second Amendment group asks court to block gun initiative from the ballot

A Ruger AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, center, sits on display with other rifles on a wall in a gun shop Nov. 7 in Lynnwood, Wash. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
A Ruger AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, center, sits on display with other rifles on a wall in a gun shop Nov. 7 in Lynnwood, Wash. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
By Walker Orenstein Olympian

A pro-gun nonprofit based in Bellevue has asked Washington’s Supreme Court to block an initiative that would implement a new slate of gun restrictions from reaching the November ballot, arguing the campaign’s petitions did not meet legal standards.

The Second Amendment Foundation filed the challenge with the high court late Friday, just days before the campaign for I-1639 said it plans to turn in more than 360,000 signatures to qualify for a public vote.

Tallman Trask, a spokesman for the I-1639 campaign, characterized the lawsuit as a last-ditch effort to stop the initiative since pro-gun organizations “can’t win at the ballot.” He told the News Tribune and the Olympian the I-1639 campaign plans to move forward with turning in signatures at the end of the week.

In a news release, Alan Gottlieb, the founder of the gun group, said the I-1639 campaign failed to properly show what current state laws would be changed and eliminated by the proposed measure through underlines and strike-out lines — standard practice on legislative bills at the Capitol.

State law requires a “full, true, and correct copy” of the proposed measure printed on the petition. The court filing by attorney Shawn Newman contends the petition text doesn’t match official text provided by the state’s Code Reviser’s office since it lacks those page markups.

In an interview, Gottlieb said he has “never ever seen” a petition drive that didn’t use the underlines and strike-outs.

The legal challenge also accuses the I-1639 campaign of using text that is too small on the petition.

Trask said his group’s petitions “were purposely designed to be really clear about what they were about,” and were not deceptive.

“People signing Initiative 1639 understand what it does,” he said, adding the Second Amendment Foundation is “desperately trying to prevent a vote on a popular measure.”

I-1639 would impose a swath of new restrictions on guns, including raising the minimum age for buying certain semi-automatic rifles to 21 years from 18.

The initiative campaign was originally scheduled to turn in signatures on Monday, but delayed the event until Friday. Trask said the change in time was not related to the legal petition.

Initiative guru Tim Eyman, who is not involved in the legal battle, said in an interview Monday he believes the court filing has a chance at success, especially in its challenge to the lack of underlines and strike-out lines on the initiative.

“Anyone who has ever looked at a bill in Olympia knows that’s the whole ballgame,” he said, adding “I would be truly shocked if a court doesn’t tell the secretary of State, ‘I’m sorry, these petitions aren’t valid.’”

Sam Reed, a three-term Republican secretary of State who left office in 2013, said he couldn’t remember the issue ever coming up during his tenure, but said the gun foundation’s petition may have merit.

“It would be totally unacceptable for the legislature to vote on proposed legislation without the strike-outs and underlines,” Reed said in an email. “Since the public is acting as the legislature with initiatives, they need to meet up to the same standards.”

Derrick Nunnally, a spokesman for current GOP Secretary of State Kim Wyman, said the office’s legal staff is reviewing the court filing and noted the I-1639 campaign has yet to turn in any signatures.

“When those come in, unless a court orders otherwise, OSOS staff will review and verify the signatures and the forms on which they’re submitted to make sure all legal requirements have been met,” Nunnally said.

He added he wasn’t sure the issue has ever been “litigated or heard in court,” and isn’t “certain what the technical requirements are” for producing a full copy of the ballot measure on the petition.

Lorrie Thompson, a spokeswoman for Washington’s courts, said those involved in the lawsuit will get a short time to respond to the lawsuit before the Supreme Court decides whether to accept the case for review, send it to a lower court or dismiss it.

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