A judge last week found that the organizers of an anti-gun voter initiative didn’t follow state law and blocked their proposal from the upcoming ballot.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon ruled that the petitions circulated by paid canvassing groups working for the Alliance for Gun Responsibility failed to meet state requirements for readability and did not contain a full and correct copy of the printed measure — which Second Amendment advocates characterized as using “microscopic” text. Dixon said his decision was an easy one.
“I have 20/20 vision, I can’t read it,” said Dixon. “Moreover it is not a true copy. It is not a correct copy of the proposed measure.”
The 30-page ballot referendum aimed to mandate new guidelines for semi-auto rifles under state law including fees, training requirements, waiting periods and additional background checks going beyond federal guidelines.
The initiative covers a lot of ground when it comes to changing the state’s gun statutes. I-1639 as proposed would set a definition under Washington law of an “assault rifle” simply as any that “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,” which would effectively regulate all semi-auto longarms other than shotguns. The new requirements proposed alongside the definition would bar sales to those under 21 altogether.
However, gun rights groups took one look at the wording, condensed to a 5-point font on an 11×17-inch card, and contacted the referendum’s backers over concerns as far back as June about the language without result. This led to a court fight that, while initially rebuffed by the Washington Supreme Court and the initiative’s certification by Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, ended in Dixon’s court last week.
“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,” said Wyman in a statement. Her office has a deadline publish election notifications by Oct. 3 and to mail out voters’ pamphlets to every household in Washington by Oct. 13 in preparation for the Nov. 6 election. “With the guidance now provided to us by the court, we can proceed with election preparations on schedule.”
The gun rights group behind the challenge, the Second Amendment Foundation, applauded the action from Dixon. “The initiative process has no place for deceit and deception,” said SAF founder, Alan Gottlieb. “The so-called Alliance for Gun Responsibility acted totally irresponsible in circulating this initiative to the voters and it not only cost them millions of wasted dollars but their credibility as well.”
As for the AGR, who raised over $3 million for their drive, largely from big donations from high-profile billionaires with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, they are planning to appeal.
“Today’s decision tossed out the signatures of more than 378,000 voters, and undermined the rights of the citizens of this state in favor of the interests of the gun lobby,” said Renee Hopkins, the group’s CEO. “It’s not right, and we will continue to fight.”
In past years the group was able to get I-594, an expanded background check initiative, approved by voters in 2014, followed by I-1491, a measure to make it easier to temporarily seize guns from individuals seen as being at risk, in 2016.