The campaign to defeat Initiative 594 just took on some important new muscle as a majority of Washington’s 39 county sheriffs have announced their opposition to the measure, according to a press release this morning from the National Rifle Association, one day after the Seattle P-I.com revealed another hefty contribution from billionaire Michael Bloomberg to the gun control effort.
The NRA noted in its release that, “The sheriffs oppose I-594 because it will not make anyone safer, will strain scarce law enforcement resources, will criminalize the lawful behavior of millions of law-abiding gun owners in Washington and will be unenforceable. Instead, I-594 would vastly expand the state’s handgun registry and force law-abiding gun owners to pay fees and get the government’s permission to sell or even loan a firearm to a friend or family member.”
The news comes about a week after the State Republican Party announced it is also opposing I-594 and supporting rival Initiative 591. The initiative duel is getting national attention because it is apparently the only such gun-related measure on this year’s ballot anywhere in the country, and because of the billionaire backing it is receiving, along with the considerable backlash from blue collar gun owners.
Here’s what some of the sheriffs have to say, according to the NRA press release:
Sheriff John Hunt, Adams County: “I believe that the current proposal would put an unnecessary strain on law enforcement agencies without any additional funding, and will not affect in any way the ability for criminals intent on getting a firearm to do so.”
Sheriff Brian Burnett, Chelan County: “My biggest concern is that this initiative is a fast track in turning many law abiding citizens into potential criminals.”
Sheriff Pete Warner, Ferry County: “I wholeheartedly oppose I-594. It’s just stupid. It penalizes the honest and law abiding citizens, and does nothing to keep the criminals from having firearms.”
Sheriff Ben Keller, Garfield County: “This initiative is a violation of the Second Amendment. I come from a gun owning family and it would be a crime every time someone wanted to use my trap gun at a trap shoot. Being in law enforcement for 24 years, this initiative is not going to keep guns off the street. What keeps guns off the street is keeping the felons that are using the guns illegally in jail.”
Sheriff Frank Rogers, Okanogan County: “I-594 will do nothing to stop the bad guys….it just puts more of a burden on the folks that follow the law.”
Sheriff Scott Johnson, Pacific County: “While I am sure the initiative was well-intended, it would not solve the problems we in the law enforcement community face.”
Sheriff Alan Botzheim, Pend Orielle County: “[I-594] is focused on honest hardworking citizens and making them criminals when they are not criminals.”
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, Spokane County: “I-594 is just another attempt to erode the Second Amendment.”
Sheriff Brett Myers, Whitman County: “I-594 is like requiring everyone to pay for a buffet dinner on the “honor system” while leaving the door open at the other end of the food line. In the end only the honest patrons will pay and those who don’t, still eat all they want.”
Twenty-two sheriffs, including seven in Western Washington, are now officially opposed to the 18-page gun control measure. If recent history is any indicator, this announcement may bring yet another infusion of cash from its wealthy elitist backers to offset the growing law enforcement opposition. So far, Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety lobbying group has contributed $1.950 million to the campaign and another $30,000 was kicked in months ago by Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
More than $3 million more has come from fellow billionaires Bill Gates, Nick Hanauer and Steve Ballmer, according to Public Disclosure Commission reports, and Paul Allen has kicked in $500,000. Indeed, the majority of big money has come from a relative handful of donors, according to the PDC report.
What does this mean? Big money carries a lot of weight in any campaign, but when a gun control issue is on the ballot, no small number of voters will pay attention to law enforcement, and in this battle, I-594 does not have that support. In addition to the 22 sheriffs, the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs (WACOPS) and Washington State Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association (WSLEFIA) – two of the state’s oldest and largest police organizations representing more than 7,500 rank-and-file officers and deputies – oppose the measure.
Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the I-591 campaign group, Protect Our Gun Rights, and who also heads the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, was delighted with the news. He told Examiner that the growing law enforcement opposition to I-594 underscores just how poorly conceived the measure is.
“When you have this many elected sheriffs taking a position against this kind of measure,” he observed, “it clearly signals that it is wrong for law enforcement, and wrong for the citizens. If county sheriffs tell you a proposed law is unenforceable, and that it will strain scarce resources, voters pay attention. When they tell you that a scheme will not make anyone safer, it’s time to support your local sheriff and follow their lead.”
The majority of law enforcement has swung behind I-591, the simple one-page measure that, according to its backers, maintains the integrity of the current background check system. It does not place additional burdens on law enforcement, and does not seek to criminalize common legal activities such as loaning firearms to friends or fellow officers, for recreation, use on-duty or off-duty, or personal protection at home.
Perhaps it was best summed up by Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield, who was also quoted in the NRA press release: “I-594 does little to nothing in addressing the high profile shooting sprees and massacres that have pushed the gun control advocates’ agenda: registering, restricting and controlling the law abiding citizens’ constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The very fact that this legislation further expands the government’s massive database on law abiding citizens is even more disturbing. Government cannot address the serious mental health issues at the root of this violence through gun control. It won’t work.”