A ballot referendum to establish Extreme Risk Protection Orders was overwhelmingly approved by voters in the Evergreen State after a $4 million campaign by gun control advocates.
The lengthy 21-page proposal, I-1491, will allow a family member to file a petition with the court for a judge to decide if a subject poses a threat to themselves or others. This could lead to an order prohibiting firearms possession for up to one year, and could be renewed annually. The subject of the order can request a hearing once a year to rescind the order while those filing false petitions would set themselves up for a criminal penalty.
Just over half of Washington’s registered voters made it to the polls and, of those who cast ballots, a full 70 percent voted to approve the gun control measure which was extremely popular along the deep-blue I-5 corridor and less so in the rest of the state. Seven of the state’s 39 counties, all far removed from the Sea-Tac urban centers, rejected I-1491.
Taking point on I-1491 was the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the front group for a 2014 measure fueled by huge influxes from billionaire tech gurus and national gun control groups that led to universal background checks in the state.
In a repeat of that campaign which saw millions fed into the engine to push through to voters, AGR was able to raise $4.1 million for I-491 according to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission. This came largely from Everytown, venture capitalist Nicholas Hanauer, Microsoft co-founders Steve Ballmer and Paul Allen, and Seattle philanthropist Ann Wyckoff.
Advocates cite a study penned by a gun control group that contends laws that quickly remove guns from individuals thought at risk — such as one adopted in Connecticut in 1999 — can help curb suicides.
The study’s authors contend that the data reflects one life saved for every 20 risk-warrants issued in Connecticut during the research period. They argue that in Washington, where the suicide rate is 14 percent higher than the national average, it could be more effective.
“Much like a seatbelt reduces injuries in a crash, temporarily removing guns from a crisis situation reduces the likelihood of death or injury,” said Horwitz in a statement emailed to Guns.com. “Evidence supports Washington’s Extreme Risk Protection Order Initiative as an effective tool to remove guns before a situation turns deadly.”
A similar proposal was adopted in California after a disturbed man attacked the campus of the University of California Santa Barbara in Isla Vista. Prior to that incident, parents of the suspect in the incident tried unsuccessfully to get authorities to take away his weapons.
Gun rights groups opposed the Washington initiative over due process concerns, but unlike campaigns mounted against ballot initiatives in Nevada and Maine, no large counter offensive was launched against I-491. The only committee formed against the initiative, Know I-1491, has reported zero funding to the Public Disclosure Commission.
With that being said, the National Rifle Association and other groups issued alerts urging down votes among their membership.
“This law would be ripe for abuse by individuals that disagree with the Second Amendment, and the mere insinuation that gun ownership makes you a danger to yourself or others is offensive and insulting,” read a statement from the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.
The groups may be saving their dollars for litigation rather than slogging it out for the hearts and minds of the electorate in an increasingly blue state.
“That may be the strategy, to beat this thing in court, rather than try to fight what seems like a quote-unquote ‘common-sense measure’ at the ballot box,” Dave Workman, a senior editor at the Second Amendment Foundation, told National Public Radio last week.
While noting the goal of the referendum was admirable — keeping guns out of the hands of those at serious risk — the ACLU did not endorse it saying “[W]e have concerns that the initiative has inadequate due process procedures. Further, these deficient due process procedures could set a bad precedent for other criminal justice processes.”