Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and three other billionaires are bankrolling a controversial gun-control initiative that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot in Washington State.
Even the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Steve Ballmer, has gotten into the act, writing a check for $1 million dollars to help flood the airwaves with anti-gun propaganda.
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The strategy in Washington relies on big money supplied by a few ultra-rich elites and, if successful, could serve as Bloomberg's model for tightening the strings on gun owners nationwide.
Initiative 594 would not only require background checks for transactions at gun shows and over the Internet but also person-to-person sales and loaned guns. Even handing a firearm to a friend for a few moments during a hunting trip would trigger the need for a background check if Initiative 594 were to pass, critics say. The cost of the background check, to be borne by the gun owner, is yet to be determined.
Backers of the proposal are flush with cash, as nearly $8 million has been shoveled in their direction from wealthy businessmen such as Bloomberg, Gates, Ballmer, Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
But Bloomberg and his billionaire buddies aren't limiting their targets to Washington. He has invested $50 million in similar ballot initiatives in 12 states, reported the Seattle Times. The money moves through his foundation, Every Town For Gun Safety.
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His army of volunteers is already working to gather signatures for a similar ballot initiative in Nevada in 2015. Arizona is also among the states in his crosshairs for 2016, according to gun rights advocates.
Dave Workman of the Seattle Gun Rights Examiner reported that a background check law in Oregon has already been deemed a failure by Oregon State Police.
He cited a study by the Oregon Firearms Federation alleging that Oregon’s background check "gun buyer harassment scheme" has failed, and warned that neighboring Washington’s Initiative 594 ballot measure would “expand this failed system to private transfers” north of the Columbia River.
The real intent of expanding background checks to private transfers has nothing to do with stopping crime and everything to do with tracking the movement of every gun, everywhere.
"Make no mistake," OFF warned, "background checks are gun registration schemes. Efforts to expand them are being funded by billionaires with armed guards. The battle is coming."
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Alan Gottlieb, president of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, a Bellevue, Washington-based advocacy group, is leading the fight against I-594 while at the same time pushing a counter proposal, I-591.
I-591 would prohibit the state from confiscating any law-abiding resident's gun without due process of law and prohibit state-level background checks unless the federal government creates a uniform national standard for such checks.
"Ours is a simple, one-page measure anybody can read and understand," Gottlieb said. "Theirs is 18 pages and I would bet that few of the people in favor of it have actually read what's in it."
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He said his organization has raised $1.3 million for I-591, which doesn't stack up very well next to the $8 million that has been raised for I-594.
He said Bloomberg, Gates, Allen and Hanauer have each donated $1 million to the cause.
"There's half a dozen people that have really funded this thing, to the point of craziness," he said. "Steve Ballmer, who bought the Clippers last month for over a billion dollars in cash, is supporting this thing too. These are the five billionaires writing seven-figure checks."
Actually, the price Ballmer paid for the Clippers was $2 billion, the highest ever paid for an NBA franchise. So what's another $1 million for gun control in Washington?
Gottlieb said his group is being outgunned in the fundraising war by seven or eight to one.
"If I were a voter I'd be very concerned that a few billionaires could get together and buy a ballot measure," Gottlieb said.
But you won't see the faces of billionaires in the incessant media spots playing in Washington. Or on the billboards that have popped up along state highways.
What you will see are very effective, emotionally charged ads. Some feature a woman, Cheryl Stumbo, who survived the 2006 shooting at the Greater Seattle Jewish Federation that killed one woman and injured five. Stumbo is the "face" of the pro-594 campaign. What she doesn't mention is that the shooter, an American Muslim of Pakistani descent, had passed a background check before he purchased his gun. I-594 wouldn't have stopped him.
"We're trying to get our message out but what we're looking at is every radio spot we run they run eight against us. So it's a problem," Gottlieb said.
According to recent polls, both ballot initiatives are likely to pass. But that could change over the final three weeks before Election Day.
"My concern is, with the amount of money they're spending we could lose ground in the final three weeks," Gottlieb said. "Most of the ads they've purchased haven't run yet."
Stephen Halbrook, author of the new book "Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and 'Enemies of the State,'" said the strategy being carried out by gun control enthusiasts is alarming because it bypasses both Congress and state legislatures.
"They failed in the state legislatures because the politicians don't want to take the heat of supporting gun control measures, but they feel they can do this massive propaganda on television and people will believe it," said Halbrook, a constitutional attorney and research fellow at The Independent Institute.
He said laws like I-594 are written in a calculated attempt to ensnare innocent gun owners.
"To write something that open ended. If they want to get you they'll get you. And that's the problem with all these laws targeting law-abiding people is they're victimless crimes," Halbrook said. "They're just trying to buy the elections and we can only hope people will see it that way. People come in from another state and buy votes and create a lot of propaganda, and misrepresent what these bills will do. There's a danger politically of getting things passed that way, having a few billionaires determine what people think, how they vote.
The Nazi Germany comparison
Halbrook sees I-594 as just another way to track gun owners.
"Basically, you register them," he said "There may be provisions in there to guard against that but those can always be changed later and people can get these lists who are not supposed to, and this can lead to confiscation. And that's the lesson of my new book."
Progressives bristle at any comparisons between their utopian plans and those of the national socialists who were elected in Germany. And they will vehemently deny that the Nazis used gun confiscation to solidify their grip on Germany in the 1930s.
"That's the most ridiculous claim," Halbrook said, of articles such as this one in Salon that charge conservatives with getting their history "dangerously wrong."
That's why he set out to write the definitive book on the subject, settling the issue once and for all with full documentation.
Germany's initial gun control law was passed under the Weimar Republic in December 1931, he said.
"They passed licensing and registration requirements and so it was only a matter of going through the lists to find out who had the guns. When it passed in Germany in 1931 the Weimar authorities warned not to let the registration record fall into the wrong hands," Halbrook said. "Well, in February 1933 Hitler took over and the wrong hands came in and consolidated power and they were able to disarm their enemies and create a dictatorship very quickly."
The Nazis inherited the Weimar gun laws and used them for five years, then developed a new law in 1938, he said.
"And for the first time it prohibited Jews from being involved in any kind of gun business," Halbrook said. "No Jew could possess a gun and they were threatened with 20 years in a concentration camp for breaking that law."
A similar confiscation occurred in France after the Germans took over that country in 1940. French police, who had the records of gun owners thanks to registration rolls, helped the German forces carry out the disarming of the French public, Halbrook said.
A precedent even exists in America for this type of incremental disarming of the public. It happened in New York City, Halbrook said.
"In the 1960s registration was passed for long guns and people who objected were written off as right wing cooks," Halbrook said. "Then years later they decided to define a new class of weapon, so-called 'assault weapons,' and applied that to assault weapons and when they decided to do that they were basically confiscating them in New York City. And we've seen a proliferation of these types of laws in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, the usual list of suspects. They pass a so-called assault weapons ban and then you also have to have a background check. The two go hand in hand. It's gotten to the point now where, in the state of New York you have to have a background check to buy a box of shotgun shells."
The bottom line is that people living in rural upstate New York or in rural parts of California end up losing their Second Amendment rights.
"In the rural areas, people don't go for this at all, so you have the ruling elite in the major cities taking control over them," he said.
Gates not up for debate
Gottlieb has challenged Gates to a debate but he has not responded. Gottlieb even sweetened the deal, telling Gates he could bring in Bloomberg and have a two-against-one debate. Still no response from Gates.
"They're not going to debate. They won't even answer. They have bodyguards to protect them what do they care (about gun rights)?" he said. "It would make for great TV ratings but they refuse to debate. They want to speak in these 30-second sound bytes. They don't want to have to answer for their views. I don't know if they've even read the bill, they've just bought off on background checks."
The 18-page document is open to various interpretations, he said.
"They like to argue their bill requires a simple background check but the truth is it's 18 pages that outlaws loans and transfers of all kinds," Gottlieb said. "Loaning your gun to a friend for a hunting trip or to your sister in-law for self-defense, that would be illegal under this bill."
In this regard, the law would go further than the background-check laws passed in California, Colorado or Massachusetts.
"California passed a bill like this and had a 30-day window in which you could loan your gun, Colorado has a 72-hour window, Massachusetts has a seven-day window, but unfortunately Washington's I-594 doesn't even have a 1-minute window just to loan a friend a firearm," he said. "They talk about how it regulates sales at gun shows and over the Internet but it goes far beyond that."
Watch Gottlieb's presentation on the two Washington ballot measures below:
Bloomberg's business clout
Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg Business News, has used his clout in the business community to gain support for his plan to get universal background checks passed at the state level, an effort that has failed at the national level. As a former mayor, Bloomberg also has the backing of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which he co-founded in 2006 with former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. It started that year with a coalition of 15 anti-gun mayors. The group now boasts that it has more than 1,000 mayors pushing for stricter gun control measures across the nation.
"There's no doubt that Bloomberg is the one behind this," Gottlieb said. "When I-594 started in this state he sent his people out from Mayors Against Illegal Guns and had them speaking at some of the first meetings."
Gottlieb said it's hard to compete with an organization like that, but he's doing his best.
"We're really funded by a large group of grassroots people in Washington State, with 12,000 donors and volunteers and unfortunately most of our people are trying to get by on a living wage, and our people cannot compete with a few billionaires," he said. "It just doesn’t work. These are guys you're looking at in the top 100 richest people in the world, and the amount they're donating, $1 million each, takes them 10 minutes to make."
But Gottlieb does have one thing on his side – the backing of the state's major law enforcement associations. The Washington Council of Police and Sheriff Deputies, which represents more than 100 agencies, voted to support I-591 and oppose I-594, while the Washington State Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association is also supporting I-591.
"Not one law enforcement group has opposed 591. We're trying to hang in there on 591, I don't think we can stop 594 at this point," Gottlieb said. "We're hoping that if both pass then the courts will force the Legislature to fix the conflicts between the two bills."
Workman said the National Rifle Association has produced a video about the fight over I-594 that is being spread primarily through social media. He summed up the current battle with billionaire gun grabbers this way in his Oct. 3 blog:
"It is clear gun prohibitionists are putting on a full-court press to pass I-594, promising to 'keep calling, keep knocking on doors, and keep persuading voters.' It's now up to the grassroots rights activists to mount an equal effort if they hope to get their measure across the finish line, and – as the NRA video makes clear – prevent clones of I-594 from spreading across the country like an Ebola outbreak."