There is a major battle under way in Washington state that has serious implications for the rest of the country. The battle is between two competing ballot initiatives Washington voters will decide this November.
The initiatives are a study in contrast. One, I-591, is a straightforward one-page provision that would forbid any expenditure or enforcement of a firearm background check law that exceeds the provisions of federal laws. The other, I-594, is exactly the sort of legislation I-591 is intended to block. This 18-page tangle of legalese requires every firearm transfer in the state – with the exception of a few narrow exclusions – to go through a federally licensed firearm dealer and include a mental and criminal background check to ensure the acquirer is not prohibited from possessing firearms under state or federal laws.
Proponents of I-591 have raised a bit over a million dollars to spend in advancing their initiative and encouraging a "No" vote on I-594. Meanwhile, proponents of I-594 have raised at least seven times that much, most of it from a few extremely wealthy individuals, including Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen and information mogul turned New York City mayor turned anti-gun extremist, Mike Bloomberg.
Advertisement - story continues below
Seven million dollars will buy a lot of TV, radio, newspaper and Internet advertising, and Washington residents are already being bombarded with the first wave of these advertisements. The volume can be expected to go up exponentially over the next several weeks as both sides press the case for their initiative while rejecting the other. If both initiatives pass, the matter will end up in the courts and probably result in a rematch down the road. Currently, both initiatives are polling with better than 50 percent support, but the intense advertising campaigns and get-out-the-vote efforts could swing those numbers dramatically.
Proponents of I-591 argue that Washington should not institute gun laws that are stricter or more complicated than federal law. They point out that crime guns are rarely acquired by prohibited persons through private, otherwise legal sales and that I-594 imposes an unnecessary burden and expense on gun owners. They also point to discomfort with the idea of government being involved in every legal firearm transaction and the potential for the process to be turned into a registration scheme.
TRENDING: The civil war has already begun
Proponents of I-594 argue that if Congress won't take action on "universal background checks," then it's up to the states to make changes, pointing to a couple of high-profile examples of prohibited people buying guns through private sales and invoking atrocities like the Batman movie massacre, the attack on the Gabby Giffords rally and the horror of Sandy Hook (none of which involved private firearm transactions) as reasons to "do something" to keep guns out of "the wrong hands."
The heavy funding of I-594 by elitist billionaires, all of whom employ private armed security to protect themselves and their families, could prove to be a double-edged sword. Voters might take exception to these elites flaunting their wealth in an effort to restrict the rights of regular citizens. The I-591 effort is playing that angle heavily and trying to educate people about the realities of private sales and the distortions being presented by the I-594 side. At the heart of the argument is the fact that, like most gun control proposals, the proponents of I-594 do not offer any real evidence that there is a specific problem that needs to be solved, or that their proposal will actually solve – or even favorably affect – any problem. Instead they present sad and scary anecdotes to excite people's emotions and then offer their proposal as a "step in the right direction." The fact is that I-594 will not prevent evil or insane people from acquiring guns if they want them, while it will add as much as 25 percent to the cost of buying a gun, not to mention the cost in time and inconvenience. And it will only impact law-abiding people wishing to buy and sell personal property that happens to be specifically protected under the Bill of Rights. It is a step in a direction away from liberty and toward overreaching government control.
Advertisement - story continues below
Anti-rights advocates have for years claimed that between 80 and 90 percent of all firearm sales are to people who already own guns. They use this figure to suggest that more and more guns are being purchased and owned by fewer and fewer people. If their claim is true (which I doubt, but let's pretend), then only 10 to 20 percent of gun buyers don't already own guns, and the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on background checks already are being wasted at a rate of 80 to 90 percent right off the top. Of the remaining 10 to 20 percent, only a very small fraction might be a prohibited person. So gun control extremists want to add expense and scrutiny to thousands more firearms transfers in Washington every year on the off chance that a few very dense criminals might be too stupid to simply avoid the scrutiny by convincing a buddy or girlfriend to make the purchase for them – something that is already illegal and still relatively common.
Will the commitment and effort of a million and a half gun owners in Washington win out over the money of a handful of billionaire hoplophobes? The only accurate measure of that question will come in the polling booths on Nov. 4, but one thing is certain: The billionaires' money will win out over apathy and inaction every time. Lovers of liberty in Washington must get involved, and they can use all the help and encouragement the rest of us can give them.
Media wishing to interview Jeff Knox, please contact [email protected].