Advocates seeking to expand the use of background checks on gun sales submitted a state ballot initiative Tuesday, taking a new approach after both federal and state lawmakers passed on similar proposals.
The plan would require background checks for online sales and private transactions, such as those that occur at gun shows. The checks would be conducted at federally licensed firearm dealers, where people already undergo such scrutiny to purchase a weapon.
Supporters said the measure wouldn’t stop all gun violence but would prevent people who shouldn’t have guns – criminals and the mentally ill – from easily acquiring them. They contended that the public is ready to push ahead with the idea.
“This issue is gaining traction,” said Cheryl Stumbo, who was wounded during the 2006 shooting at the Jewish Federation in Seattle. “We’re seeing more and more incidents, more and more deaths, and the public is paying attention.”
Legislators had considered a similar measure this year, but it didn’t pass either house. The initiative does not include some of the exemptions that lawmakers had been considering. For example, law enforcement officers or people who have concealed pistol licenses still would have to go through background checks on private transactions under the initiative.
Zach Silk, a campaign manager with the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, said proponents wanted to ensure that the measure was simple and without a lot of caveats that would prevent the measure from working.
“We wanted to make sure it was the most effective bill,” Silk said. The initiative does provide exemptions for transactions between family members, temporary use of a borrowed gun, and the purchase of antique or relic guns.
Initiative proponents need to collect about 246,000 valid signatures before Jan. 3 to qualify. If the effort does get enough signatures, lawmakers will have the option of adopting the measure. Otherwise it will be on the ballot in November 2014.
The ballot measure opens a new front in the effort to expand background checks that began in earnest following the December massacre in Newtown, Conn. While advocates have been successful in some states, such as Connecticut and Colorado, they have struggled in Congress and other states.
Initiative sponsors believe they have enough support this year. They’ve raised more than $800,000 already – more than half the amount they expect to need for gathering signatures. Meanwhile, an independent Elway Poll conducted this year found that 79 percent of registered voters in the state supported background checks on all gun sales.