Voters back new controls on gun sales

Initiative 594 carried nearly 60 percent of the vote, giving gun-control supporters a big victory.
Crosscut archive image.

Supporters celebrate Initiative 594's passage.

Initiative 594 carried nearly 60 percent of the vote, giving gun-control supporters a big victory.

Washington voters gave overwhelming support Tuesday to a measure to signficantly expand requirements for background checks before guns are sold. Initiative 594 was winning nearly 60 percent of the votes throughout the evening. 

Initiative 591, a rival measure backed by gun rights groups, failed badly, getting only 45.4 percent of the votes as Tuesday's count neared an end late in the evening.

I-594's passage makes Washington the first state in the West to adopt gun safety legislation in a public vote.

On the ballot, Washington voters faced the two dueling gun initiatives, a potentially confusing matter. Not only were they able to vote yes (or no) on both, but both initiatives had a chance of passing and setting up big legal and political fights.

I-594 expands background checks for every gun sale made beyond federal requirements. Purchasing a gun from a family member would require the same application process as purchasing one from a licenced dealer. It does allow however, giving or loaning an immediate family member a gun without a background check. I-594 was sponsored by the Washington Alliance for Gun Control, drawing hefty financial support from such wealthy backers as Bill and Melinda Gates, Nick Hanaeur and Paul Allen.

The supporters of the measure argued that it would close the gun-show loophole, which they say has allowed purchases without background checks. Many police leaders backed the measure, saying it could put a dent in the number of criminals carrying guns. Supporters also said it can provide some protection against guns being sold to people who have suffered serious mental illnesses. 

I-591 would have blocked state government from adopting background checks stricter than federal government standards. The 591 supporters' main argument: The rival I-594 would jeopardize privacy and public safety. With backing from the The National Rifle Association, the “Protect Our Gun Rights” initiative stayed optimistic until the end. But, they were financially swamped by the their opponents in a 10-to-1 ratio. Alan Gottlieb of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said earlier today if both measures pass, the issue would have to be resolved in the state Legislature. However, he suggested that there would be a court case to try to block I-594 if only it passed — which appears to be the case.

The NRA earlier this year stated they were “very committed” to defeating the I-594 background check measure. Historically the NRA has been successful in blocking local gun-control campaigns (think back to the 1994 initiative to ban assault weapons and 1997 trigger lock initiative). But, this was the first time they and other gun rights groups came up far short financially, bringing in $1.2 million. That was an almost-measly amount compared to pro-background check 594’s whopping $10.3 million. 

I-594 campaign manager Zach Silk told a cheering crowd of supporters at the Edgewater Hotel, "We have proved that when our elected officials won't lead, we people will." He added, "The gun lobby is out of touch with America and that's been shown today."


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors