State faith leaders and gun violence victims on Tuesday filed an initiative proposal that would require background checks for almost all firearms sales and transfers, taking the first step in what is expected to be a hotly contested push for stronger gun laws.
Supporters, who have already raised more than $1 million for their campaign, will need to gather some 246,000 valid signatures by next January to send the measure to the state Legislature. If lawmakers do not accept it, the initiative would go to voters in November 2014.
The background checks are meant to prevent felons and mentally disabled people from getting weapons. The checks are currently required for sales from licensed gun dealers.
The proposed law would extend that mandate to private sales, requiring the seller go to a dealer and pay for a background check.
A few transfers would be exempted, including for antique guns, gifts within the immediate family, situations where there is imminent danger and transactions related to a law enforcement officer’s job.
“This will make it more difficult for bad guys to get guns, and it won’t burden the good guys,” said campaign manager Zach Silk, noting that 98 percent of state residents live within 10 miles of a gun dealer.
But Second Amendment activists quickly noted the proposal would be far stricter than a bill that failed to pass this year in even the Legislature’s Democrat-controlled House. That measure would have exempted concealed pistol license holders.
Alan Gottlieb, of the Second Amendment Foundation, called the new proposal “overly restrictive by a long shot.”
The National Rifle Association, which typically opposes new gun restrictions, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It is unclear how much gun-rights activists will fight the initiative.
Supporters, though, are expected to be well-financed. The campaign will be a run by the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a group founded late last year by wealthy venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.
A kickoff fundraiser two weeks ago at The Westin Seattle brought in more than $1 million from 1,200 attendees, according to initiative spokesman Christian Sinderman.
The luncheon’s keynote speaker was Mark Glaze, executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a big-spending group founded by New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. After the luncheon, Glaze promised that Bloomberg’s group would support the Washington state initiative.
Gun-control advocates are hoping that national support will help them avoid what happened in 1997, when a Washington state initiative to require trigger locks on handguns and training for owners failed overwhelmingly.
This time, said Silk, “we expect to win.”