Competing gun initiatives draw large crowd to House Judiciary Committee hearing

January 30, 2014

Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, drew heavy media attention when they spoke briefly before the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday on competing gun-related measures, proposed initiatives 594 and 591.

Hundreds more lined up to be heard, and the overflow crowd was moved to the hallways and eventually to the House chamber where the hearing was broadcast on large video screens. The Senate Law and Justice Committee held a hearing on the two initiatives on Wednesday.

The measures were submitted as Initiatives to the Legislature, after both received the required 250,000 valid signatures.. State law requires the number of valid signatures to equal 8% of the total votes cast in the most recent election for governor.  About three million people voted in the 2012 governor’s race.

In testimony, proponents said expanding background checks to all firearm transactions would keep dangerous people from acquiring guns. Opponents said further constraining private transfers of firearms infringes on gun owner rights, and in any case would not keep guns out of the hands of criminals. 

Here is what the two initiatives propose.

Initiative 591: Protecting gun and other firearm rights. This measure would make it unlawful for any government agency to require background checks on the recipient of a firearm unless required by a uniform national standard, such as the current federal requirement for a background check on pistol sales. It would also prohibit any government agency from confiscating firearms from citizens without due process of law.

Initiative 594: Gun sales background check. This measure would make all firearms sales or transfers, including handguns and long guns, subject to background checks unless specifically exempted by federal or state law. This requirement would apply to all transactions whether through a licensed dealer, at a gun show, online or between private individuals.  The meaning of "transfer" would include gifts and loans, in addition to sales.

Lawmakers have three choices in how they respond to an Initiative to the Legislature:

• They can approve it without change and the measure becomes law.

• They can amend or otherwise change it, and both the original initiative and the amended version are placed on the ballot in the next general election. 

• They can do nothing. In that case, the original initiatives are automatically placed on the next general election ballot for consideration by the people.

Rep, Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee and Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley), Chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee each indicated they have no plans to bring the two initiatives up for a vote in their respective chambers. It is most likely, therefore, that Initiative 594 and Initiative 591 will both be placed unchanged on this November’s ballot.  The initiatives contradict each other in important areas of firearms policy, meaning the courts would have to sort them out if they both pass.