A Thurston County judge recently ruled that petitioned signatures supporting Initiative 1639 did not comport with Washington law, siding with lawsuits supported by the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation (SAF).
Secretary of State Kim Wyman certified I-1639, titled “Gun Violence Prevention,” on July 27 for the November general election. The initiative would implement restrictions on the purchase and ownership of firearms, specifically semi-automatic rifles. Shortly after, Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the SAF, quickly challenged the initiative with a lawsuit — as did the NRA — specifically targeting the secretary of state.
Superior Court judge James Dixon ordered that the Wyman’s office should stop the certification process as the petition was no longer valid. However, Dixon stated that Wyman fulfilled her obligations to the law as Wyman only had to ensure the petitioned gathered the required number of signatures.
“No matter the issue, this office has a long track record of protecting the people’s constitutional right to initiative and referendum,” Wyman said in a statement. “Whenever questions are raised about petitions submitted by initiative-backers facing a statutory deadline, my office has consistently acted accordingly.”
The Alliance For Gun Responsibility, which used the now invalid petitions in its campaign for signatures, quickly moved to appeal the decision as officials prepare to print ballots and voter pamphlets, according to a Seattle Times report. The Washington State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Aug. 28, if the court thinks it is necessary.
“I want to thank judge Dixon for ruling on this matter in time for the state and counties to begin printing ballots for the November General Election,” Wyman said in a statement. “With the guidance now provided to us by the court, we can proceed with election preparations on schedule.”
Prior to the initiative’s certification, the SAF itself filed a lawsuit alleging the same language issues invalidated the petition signatures, but it was struck down by the state Supreme Court.
The lawsuits alleged that the petition to certify the initiative is invalid because the ballot language was not printed in accordance with state law. Specifically, the complaints are that the language used was not consistent with the initiative and that it didn’t live up to state readability standards.
“How was anyone supposed to fully understand what they were signing?” Gottlieb asked in a press release. “Just because the wealthy elitists behind this poorly prepared initiative spent a couple of million dollars in an attempt to get on the November ballot is no reason for the court to allow them to dance around state law.”
Wyman responded saying that the initiative met all state requirements that allow the secretary of state to accept a petition. The Office of Secretary of State randomly examined 11,380 of the 378,085 sponsor-submitted signatures and found that more than enough of them were valid to meet constitutional requirements.
“Concerns remain about whether the format of the I-1639 petition signature sheets complies with constitutional and statutory requirements, and whether it sets a precedent for future petitions,” Wyman wrote in a press release. “However, the initiative complied with the requirements of RCW 29A.72.170, which limits the secretary’s authority over initiatives to specific criteria.”
I-1639 puts stronger regulations on semi-automatic rifles and specifically expands current provisions regarding pistols to include rifles. Background checks will be enhanced to be as strong as checks for pistols and the minimum age to purchase a rifle will be raised to 21 with the same exceptions as for pistols.
“Studies show that eighteen to twenty year olds commit a disproportionate number of firearm homicides in the United States,” the initiative reads. “Research indicates that the brain does not fully mature until a later age. Raising the minimum age to purchase semiautomatic assault rifles to twenty-one is a commonsense step the people wish to take to increase public safety.”
Additionally, the initiative creates a 10-business-day waiting period after the application of purchase and allows for the Department of Licensing to require dealers to charge purchasers a fee of no greater than $25 that will go toward state, mental health institutions and local law enforcement.
Lastly, if the initiative is passed in November, it will require gun owners to safely secure all firearms and if a prohibited person or minor gains access to a firearm that isn’t safely stored, the gun owner will be guilty of community endangerment, a class C felony, with several exceptions provided in the full text of the initiative.
This provision in I-1639 is similar to the Seattle ordinance that the SAF and NRA sued over earlier in July.
The ordinance was created after a University of Washington study showed that nearly two-thirds of gun owners in Washington don’t safely store their firearms. Among other changes, the Seattle ordinance fines neglectful gun owners in various degrees: $500 for failure to secure a firearm in a locked container or with a trigger lock; $1,000 if a prohibited person or minor obtains the unsecured firearm; and $10,000 if the prohibited person or minor commit a crime, or cause injury or death.
If passed, the age requirements of I-1639 would be implemented Jan. 1 2019, while the rest of the provisions would take effect on July 1, 2019. Currently, the Seattle ordinance will take effect in January.