As America celebrates its independence, gun owners in Washington State are bracing for battle over gun rights.
As America, including Washington residents, prepare to celebrate the 242nd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, a legal showdown is looming over gun rights in the Evergreen State; rights enumerated in both the federal and state constitutions, and an initiative requirement spelled out in state statute that dates back more than 100 years.
As noted by the Tacoma News Tribune – and reported first by Liberty Park Press last Friday – two gun rights groups based in Bellevue are challenging the validity of Initiative 1639, the latest gun control effort sponsored by the billionaire-backed Alliance for Gun Responsibility. That’s the Seattle-based gun control lobbying group that wants to raise the minimum age for owing a semi-auto rifle to 21 years.
But the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA) are asking the State Supreme Court to enjoin the Secretary of State’s office from accepting the initiative petitions.
UPDATE: The Seattle Times is reporting about the initiative and legal challenge here. Reader comments are largely opposed to the measure, which signature gatherers, as noted by the accompanying Times photo, touted as a measure to “prevent gun violence.”
Critics say I-1639 would declare such common .22-caliber rimfire rifles as the Ruger 10/22 and Marlin Model 60 as “assault rifles” by this language that defines a “semiautomatic assault rifle” as:
“Any rifle which utilizes a portion of the energy of a firing cartridge to extract the fired cartridge case and chamber the next round, and which requires a separate pull of the trigger to fire each cartridge. ‘Semiautomatic assault rifle’ does not include antique firearms, any firearm that has been made permanently inoperable, or any firearm that is manually operated by bolt, pump, lever, or slide action.”
That definition is found on Page 27 of the initiative, which was printed in such small type on the back of the petition that SAF and CCRKBA contend was unreadable, and therefore didn’t comply with state law.
Critics also contend that the measure covers several subjects, including so-called “safe storage,” mandatory training, registration, a tax disguised as a fee and slapping gun owners with criminal liability if a gun is accessed by a child or some unauthorized person and used to injure someone.
But SAF and CCRKBA focus on the readability issue and one other important point: The petitions allegedly did not include a “full, true, and correct copy” of the initiative because the text did not underline proposed new statutory language, nor strike out language to be changed or deleted from existing law. That could be a big issue, as explained by former Secretary of State Sam Reed, who was quoted by the News Tribune noting, “It would be totally unacceptable for the legislature to vote on proposed legislation without the strike-outs and underlines. Since the public is acting as the legislature with initiatives, they need to meet up to the same standards.” Here’s what the state statute says:
“Petitions—Paper—Size—Contents. – The person proposing the measure shall print blank petitions upon single sheets of paper of good writing quality (including but not limited to newsprint) not less than eleven inches in width and not less than fourteen inches in length. Each petition at the time of circulating, signing, and filing with the secretary of state must consist of not more than one sheet with numbered lines for not more than twenty signatures, with the prescribed warning and title, be in the form required by RCW 29A.72.110, 29A.72.120, or 29A.72.130, and have a readable, full, true, and correct copy of the proposed measure printed on the reverse side of the petition.”—RCW 29A.71.100
SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb says these issues require court consideration.
“Gun control groups constantly insist that gun owners follow the law,” he commented last week. “Well, anti-gunners have to obey the law, as well.”
There is no small irony in the fact that as the gun prohibition lobby prepares to submit its petitions on Thursday – a delay from the originally-scheduled Monday drop-off in Olympia – the state Department of Licensing reported another hike in the number of active concealed pistol licenses. As of June 30, there were 584,706 CPLs in circulation, showing that Washington residents are continuing to “arm up.” The CPL numbers had declined nearly 11,000 between last Nov. 30 and Feb. 28, but March, April and May all showed a gradual recovery.
I-1639 proponents argue that the minimum age for purchasing a so-called “assault weapon” should be the same as buying a handgun. Initiative opponents reply to that by noting that 18-20 year-olds are considered mature enough to vote, join the military, marry and even start a business and enter into a contract.
On Wednesday, when people celebrate the 4th of July, lurking in the background is this battle over gun control versus gun rights. There will be fireworks aplenty Wednesday night, and a lot more of the legal variety in the days ahead.