SHELTON - Voters in Washington state will decide the fate of an initiative that seeks to curb gun violence by toughening background checks for people buying semi-automatic rifles, increasing the age limit to 21 for buyers of those guns and requiring safe storage of all firearms.
Opponents say Initiative 1639 strips the constitutional rights of 18- to 20-year-olds and criminalizes self-defense. Forcing gun owners to lock away their firearms could put them in danger, said Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation.
“You may not be able to get to them if you need them for self-defense,” he said. “When seconds count, your life could be in jeopardy.”
Opponents sued to get the initiative off the ballot, arguing there were flaws in the signature-gathering process. A Thurston County judge agreed, but the Washington Supreme Court overturned that ruling.
The measure focuses on three main topics - safe gun storage, tougher background checks for people buying certain types of rifles, and upping the age to buy those rifles. But there’s opposition to some of the measure’s wording before even delving into its details.
In order to specify which rifles require the enhanced background checks, the initiative had to define those guns. The definition calls them “semi-automatic assault rifles,” which immediately sparked angry responses from gun-rights supporters.
Supporters of Yes On 1639, said they used the term “semi-automatic assault rifle” in the definition “based on their function, not their appearance or any kind of nostalgia anyone might have about certain guns.”
The initiative also seeks to keep firearms out of the hands of children by requiring owners to lock them up.
The initiative would also create a new crime of “community endangerment.” It would be a felony if a gun isn’t safely stored and a prohibited person, such as a felon or child, uses it to injure or kill someone. It would be a misdemeanor if the gun isn’t secured and a prohibited person causes it to discharge, carries it in a public place to intimidate others or uses it to commit a crime. The gun owner wouldn’t be liable if their firearm is stolen out of the safe, as long as they report the theft within five days.
Supporters of Yes On 1639, said being on vacation and missing the five-day deadline would be a valid defense if a person’s firearm is stolen from a secure location and say it’s more about getting people to take reasonable and responsible measures to secure their guns.
In Mason County, the two men contending for Sheriff are both opposed to I-1639.
“It appears that it’s against assault rifles, it affects all kinds of rifles that families would normally use to go out and target shoot with their kids,” said Mason County Sheriff incumbent Casey Salisbury. “It’s too encompassing,” he went on to say. “38 sheriffs in Washington state came out against it. Everybody wants our community safer, but when you start eliminating weapons that have been in for future generations, it would put kids in a bad situation. I am very much for safety but it’s negatively impacting communities, rural communities in Mason County which are very separate from King County. It’s not what everybody was for, I am very against it. It was misleading. It prohibits a whole responsible group of people. It’s too encompassing and if you’re not locking it up and its stolen, you’re liable and I disagree with that,” Salisbury said.
Salisbury’s opponent, Darin Holland is a realtor, gun advocate and a military veteran. He too takes a ‘no’ stance on I-1639.
“Everyone needs to protect themselves. It’s unconstitutional to limit an age group and deny them access to guns that aren’t assault rifles. I have AR-15s. I don’t believe the state has the ability to limit those.” Holland also addressed the gun owner liability aspect saying, "If someone steals my car and mows down people with it should I be held accountable? A gun isn't the only tool that can be used to do harm," Holland said. "If someone steals a gun from Walmart and shoots someone, should the CEO be held accountable? No," said Holland. "I'm against that too."
As far as I-940 is concerned, both candidates aren’t in favor of the ballot measure. I-940 is intended to ensure police are trained to use deadly force only when it’s unavoidable — and that they are prosecuted when the facts prove otherwise. Current law makes it difficult to convict an officer of a crime for an unjustified shooting unless there is a proven element of malice.