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Common Sense: Washington State Voters Approve Expanded Background Checks On Gun Sales


On the surface, Tuesday night’s elections were cause to celebrate in Republican circles as the GOP snatched majority control of the Senate from Democrats and expanded their majority in the House of Representatives. Republicans also fared better in the governors’ races than many figured. However, while progressives, liberals and Democrats regroup and plan for 2016’s general election, there were some glimmers of hope that the country isn’t necessarily moving towards the Koch-fueled dystopian future that some fear.

Voters in Washington overwhelmingly passed an initiative that would expand the state’s background check laws. Initiative 594 calls for background checks to be performed on all gun purchases in the state, not just those through licensed dealers. Therefore, firearm sales at gun shows, online or through private parties can only be completed if a background check on the purchaser is done. As long as one party to the sale is located in Washington, the new law applies. Previously, Washington law only required background checks on purchases of pistols through licensed dealers. The ballot initiative passed with nearly 60% support.

At the same time, voters also rejected a ballot initiative that would strengthen the state’s gun laws. Initiative 591 was intended to make it more difficult to require background checks on individuals purchasing firearms in the state as it would require a national standard set. (We all know that the NRA has long prevented such a standard from getting through the federal legislative system.) It also included language prohibiting the government from confiscating firearms from individuals without due process. The measure was defeated 55% to 45%.

Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action released a joint statement Tuesday night praising the passage of I-594 and expressing relief that I-591 was defeated.

“When it comes to guns, the only Washington that mattered this election was Washington State and the victory for I-594, the background check ballot initiative there, proved the polls right – when Americans vote on public safety measures to prevent gun violence, gun safety wins,” said John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety. “The NRA might be able to intimidate Washington DC and state legislators, but they don’t intimidate American voters – and we expect to prove this again in Nevada where signatures are currently being gathered to put background checks on the ballot there too.”

“Moms took the fight to keep our children safe from gun violence to a new grassroots level – and the election results show that while the gun lobby can bully politicians, they can’t bully the American people at the voting booth,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “We set out to sign up one million Americans to vote for gun safety, and that’s just what we did this election. We knocked on doors, we made calls, and we have built a grassroots movement that is not only rivaling the gun lobby, but winning key races. But this is a long-term effort – the gun lobby has had the field to themselves for decades and we’re finally meeting them on their turf and showing them—and the legislators in their pockets—that Americans will stand up for public safety.”

“The people of Washington have delivered an historic and enormous victory for common-sense gun laws that will reverberate across our country,” said Zach Silk, campaign manager for the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility. “By voting Yes On 594 and No on 591, Washington has demonstrated that when a coalition of everyday citizens has the resources, support, and energy necessary to take on the gun lobby, they can win. Washington will serve as an example for Americans in states across our country that they can stand up for common-sense values of gun responsibility and win.”

“Tonight’s victory of Washington’s 594 proves that citizens, including gun owners, do want common-sense gun safety laws, said Mayor Marilyn Strickland of Tacoma. “Washington State is an example for the entire country – showing citizens and elected officials in all states that they have the right to stand up for common-sense values of gun responsibility and community safety – and can win.”


The vote on Tuesday was very likely influenced by actions that occurred in the state less than two weeks ago. On October 24th, a horrific school shooting happened near Seattle that claimed the lives of four teenage students, including the shooter. 15-year-old Jaylen Fryberg lured friends and cousins of his to lunch via text and social media and then shot them at close range with a Baretta pistol before turning the gun on himself. The tragic event has shaken the local community and could have been a major factor on the measure’s passage.

With I-594’s successful passage, Everytown and Moms Demand Action are looking to get similar legislation on the ballots in other states by 2016. States they are targeting are Arizona, Maine, Oregon and Nevada. Other than Arizona, these states, like Washington, are considered blue or swing states but with a large percentage of gunowners among their populations. With the knowledge that gun control measures will be a no-go on a federal level for at least two years, gun control advocates are hoping to gradually change the landscape on a state level.


Photo courtesy of AP

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