Columbia Basin Badger Club takes on dueling gun-related ballot measures

Two speakers Friday tried to win potential voters over to their side of controversial gun-related ballot issues.

Rory Graves, whose mother, a Tri-City resident, was shot in a domestic violence incident two years ago, spoke in favor of Initiative 594, which, if passed, would require background checks on all gun sales, including ones made on the Internet and at gun shows.

Phil Watson, director of special projects with the Second Amendment Foundation, told the audience at the Richland Red Lion that they should vote for Initiative 591 instead, which would forbid the state from passing gun background checks beyond what federal law allows, on Nov. 5.

The 16 states that require background checks on all gun sales have seen 38 percent fewer gun-related murders, said Graves, who was representing the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility in front of 80 people at the Columbia Basin Badger Club forum.

"We know closing these loopholes is effective in preventing gun violence," she said. "It's common sense to make sure everyone in the state goes through the same background check."

Gun shows in Washington already require background checks, Watson said.

"You can negotiate meeting with someone (to make a sale) over the internet or through the mail, but I have a word for that -- criminals," he said. "They're going to do that anyway."

Speakers disagreed about the two initiatives' scope. Watson said the pro-background check initiative might not be legal because it deals with multiple subjects, also expanding a state gun database.

But it is actually the anti-background check proposal that has multiple subjects, said Alliance for Gun Responsibility spokesman Geoff Potter.

That initiative would prevent government confiscation of guns in addition to stopping expansion of background checks.

Should both initiatives pass, a decision on what would happen likely would fall to the courts. Attorney General Bob Ferguson has said that courts in other states have settled similar conflicts by favoring the initiative receiving more votes.

The pro-background check initiative has received large donations from Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, while the other side has been endorsed by law enforcement groups like the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs.

Attendees were asked to not make statements while questioning the speakers. Some found creative ways around that.

"Doesn't it seem that if it would save one life, it would be good enough for our state?" said Ginger Vetrano of Richland.

Others questioned whether the pro-background checks law would work.

"What about the people who aren't interested in living within the law?" said John Talbott of Pasco. "They still will have access to guns, just as they do now."