After more than a year of fierce campaigning that saw anti-gun groups ally with billionaire philanthropists, some 60 percent of ballots cast Tuesday in the Evergreen State were in favor of expanding background checks to virtually all gun transfers.
The votes for ballot Initiative 594, fronted by the little-known Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, intends to change gun statutes in state through its 18-page measure to eliminate what the group calls a “loophole” in the current system. The group had the widespread support of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety organization, which funneled nearly $2 million into a war chest to back the measure.
“Washington State has become the first state to close the background checks loophole by popular vote,” said Everytown on their social media account late Tuesday. “594 extends the currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to cover all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with reasonable exceptions.”
The National Rifle Association (NRA), however, argued that the move is actually an end-run on building an unconstitutional firearms registry that is full of unseen pitfalls for the average gun owner.
“No 18-page law is simple,” reads the NRA’s No on 594 website. “Further, 594 is classic bait and switch…supporters constantly and dishonestly refer to ‘sales’ when the language of the proposal regulates ‘transfers’, very broadly defined. Virtually every time a firearm changes hands, the transfer would be required to be processed through a licensed dealer. Worst of all, I-594 is being disguised as a simple background check measure, when in fact it would result in handgun registration.”
While the NRA invested nearly $500,000 in fighting the ballot referendum, in the end they were far outspent by gun control groups backing the measure. In addition to Bloomberg’s millions, tech billionaires Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, and Paul Allen added well over an additional million of their own money to the pot. However, venture capitalist Nicolas Hanauer outdid even the Microsoft philanthropists by coming close to Bloomberg’s own mark.
The billionaire investor grew personally involved in the gun control campaign, leading to an increasingly bizarre commentary on gun violence on social media. Following a tragic shooting event in Washington in October, Hanauer tweeted, “We need more school shootings!!! Vote yes on Initiative 591,” referring to the counter-initiative on the ballot that aimed to derail 594.
Even though 27 of 39 elected sheriffs in the state as well as two large law enforcement associations joined with the state Republican Party to oppose 594, it was a large majority of voters in the greater Seattle-Tacoma area that carried the day for the measure. In more rural areas, voters in nearly two thirds of the state rejected the referendum.
With the passage of 594 into law, the NRA has voiced fears that Bloomberg may take his now-successful model on the road.
“If he is successful in this ballot initiative in Washington, we are very concerned that he will replicate this across the country, and we will have ballot initiatives like this one across the country,” Catherine Mortensen of the NRA told The Olympian.
With that being said, Washington may be the first state in the union to vote in expanded background check schemes, but it may not be the last.
Image copyright Getty Images/vmbfoto