Washington’s gun initiative would toughen background checks for semiautomatic rifles
Washingtonians will decide whether they want to enact statewide restrictions on semiautomatic rifles by voting on Initiative 1639 this November.
Back in August, a judge ruled in favor of the Second Amendment Foundation’s lawsuit against the initiative and pulled the measure from the ballot. But the Washington Supreme Court overturned that ruling a week later, setting up a statewide fight between Second Amendment proponents and gun control advocates.
What it means: A “yes” vote on the Changes to Gun Ownership and Purchase Requirements Measure would make it more difficult for people to purchase semiautomatic rifles in Washington. Starting Jan. 1, 2019, it would raise the minimum age at which one could buy a semiautomatic rifle to 21.
Other parts of the measure, including background checks and waiting periods for purchasing semiautomatic rifles, and storage requirements for all guns, would take effect July 1, 2019, according to ballot language and descriptions from the Washington Secretary of State’s office and Ballotpedia:
- Prospective semiautomatic rifle buyers would have to provide dealers with proof they have completed a firearm safety training program in the last five years.
- Local law enforcement would be required to perform a background check on buyers, using the national instant criminal background check system, and notify the dealer in writing that the purchaser is eligible to buy a gun.
- Existing requirements that dealers wait to deliver pistols to buyers who have outstanding arrest warrants until their warrants are served would be expanded to include semiautomatic rifles. Local law enforcement officials could also delay sales for all types of firearms for up to 30 days to verify records.
- Currently, courts and law enforcement agencies can request that mental health institutions and health care facilities release information relevant to an applicant’s eligibility to buy a pistol. The new measure would include semiautomatic rifles as well.
- The Department of Licensing could require gun dealers to charge buyers up to $25, which would go to local law enforcement, the state and mental health institutions. There would also be a 10-day waiting period starting the day a semiautomatic rifle buyer completed their application.
- Anyone who stores a gun where a person not allowed to own a firearm could access it would be guilty of a felony if the prohibited person gained access to it. Dealers would be required to offer buyers gun storage devices like trigger locks.
Who’s backing the initiative: Safe Schools Safe Communities, an arm of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility Victory Fund, a political action committee, has spent $4.3 million supporting the measure, according to the Public Disclosure Commission. Their biggest donors are Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, both of whom have given more than $1 million. Allen also drew headlines recently for giving $100,000 to help Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives.
The PAC is part of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a nonprofit that “works to end the gun violence crisis in our state.”
The Tacoma News Tribune Editorial Board has also endorsed stricter gun laws.
Proponents say the initiative will enact common-sense restrictions on semiautomatic rifles and help prevent mass shootings by limiting who can access them.
Who’s against it: Washingtonians and the National Rifle Association for Freedom has received $150,000 from the NRA, and spent spent $144,000, according to the Public Disclosure Commission. The NRA says the measure “poses multiple threats to gun rights and puts law-abiding citizens in jeopardy, without any significant impact on violent crime.”
Save Our Security, a “citizens rights group supporting all aspects of security for Washingtonians,” has spent $14,000 opposing the measure.
The Columbian Editorial Board advised against the measure.
Opponents say the initiative infringes upon Second Amendment rights, and criticize storage requirements for potentially impacting homeowners’ abilities to defend themselves.
What an expert says: Professor Fred Rivera, who studies firearm injury prevention at the University of Washington’s Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, believes the changes proposed by I-1639 “are very common sense measures that may help (to prevent) individuals that may harm themselves or others from getting access to guns.”
Rivera, also a pediatrician at UW’s School of Medicine, views himself as an independent voice whose role is to provide information so policymakers and voters can make informed decisions. He said raising the age at which one can buy a semiautomatic rifle to 21 is logical, because that’s the age required to purchase a handgun.
When semiautomatic rifles are used in shootings, more people tend to be shot and more tend to be killed, Rivera said, citing the 2016 shooting in Mukilteo, where a 19-year-old gunned down four people, killing three.
“Because he was not yet 21, he could not buy a handgun, but he could buy an AR-15 – he could buy an assault rifle,” Rivera said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Rivera believes the waiting period is also a smart idea.
“I think that something like purchasing a semiautomatic assault rifle is a big deal, and there should be time for a background check,” he said. “Presumably there’s no acute need.”
Rivera believes gun rights advocates don’t have too much to be worried about.
“I think that if you are mentally not ill, you are not a criminal and you’re over age 21, none of this is restricting your right to buy a gun,” he said.