Gun control advocates in Washington have launched a campaign to put an initiative before voters that would expand firearm background checks. And the issue seems to be gaining support in Kitsap County.
The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility and the Faith Action Network are backing an initiative that would give voters in Washington the opportunity to pass legislation that would expand background checks for gun owners - specifically tightening the so-called loopholes at gun shows.
While the actual wording of the proposed initiative isn’t set yet, Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer said in theory he supports closing the gun show loopholes.
“Closing the gun show loopholes, where anybody can go to a gun show and buy a gun, that’s something that I would support,” he said. “But my support has to be cautioned with the fact that I would want to see the actual language in any initiative before I endorsed it.”
Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility is taking action in response to lawmakers in Olympia and the U.S. Senate who declined to pass a similar measure. They will need to collect nearly 250,000 valid signatures in order for the measure to go on the ballot. The group is finalizing language and will begin to collect signatures during the summer.
The matter would not be placed on the ballot until 2014.
The Faith Action Network, a partnership of religious leaders in Seattle, is on record against gun violence and support the ballot measure, according to Executive Director Rev. Paul Benz.
“This campaign has just gotten underway,” Benz said. “We’re looking forward to working with those in the faith community to see that the petition progresses and that the matter is on the ballot.”
Benz said there are a number of faith leaders in Kitsap County who have expressed an interest in helping gather signatures for the initiative.
Rev. Larry Robertson of the Emmanuel Apostolic Church in Bremerton, is one of them.
“Background checks are very important,” Robertson said. “I’d like to see legislation passed to make that necessary. Anything I can do to get the word out on this petition, I’ll do.”
Gun buyers in Washington state must currently undergo a background check when they purchase a weapon from a federally licensed firearms dealer. Lawmakers had proposed expanding that to cover private transactions as a way of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. Gun sales at gun shows often avoid the background checks because they are considered private sales.
That’s the kind of loophole that Boyer wants to see closed.
“When I attend national sheriff’s leadership meetings, there are a number of items related to gun violence that we support,” he said. “One of them is the closing of loopholes so that people who buy guns have been checked out and are lawful citizens.”
Boyer said just as important are such things as enhancing security at schools.
“That doesn’t mean arming every teacher,” he said. “It means making sure every school has a safety plan and is secure.”
Additionally, there needs to be more mental heath treatment available and there needs to be a focus on enforcing existing gun laws, he said.
“These things can make a difference in our safety,” Boyer said. “Unfortunately we have a culture of violence in our society and we really need to get a grip on it.”
Regarding the petition and the initiative, what Boyer fears is that any conversation will become polarizing with neither side able to listen.
“I hope those who are putting together this initiative listen to those on the other side and make sure that whatever is put before voters is something that can pass. It’s going to take some careful thought and it’s going to have to be a comprehensive approach.”
Elsewhere, Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick said he supports the campaign and that criminal background checks are essential to protecting lives and property.
Organizers of the initiative said they may decide to take it directly to the State Legislature next year and if it fails to pass, then opt to put it on the November 2014 ballot.