Yes on 1491: Save Lives
Yes on 1491: Save Lives

The Nation­al Rifle Asso­ci­a­tion and the gun lob­by arrayed around it may have a lot of influ­ence in Con­gress and state leg­is­la­tures around the coun­try, includ­ing Wash­ing­ton’s, but an over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of vot­ers in the Ever­green State are ready to stand up to them and once again vote to strength­en gun safe­ty laws, a recent sur­vey con­duct­ed for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute has found.

In Novem­ber of 2014, the peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton mem­o­rably defied the NRA and vot­ed for uni­ver­sal back­ground checks on gun sales with I‑594. That law remains in place today. But there is more we can do to pre­vent gun violence.

That’s why, for the last few months, the Wash­ing­ton Alliance for Gun Respon­si­bil­i­ty has been work­ing to qual­i­fy I‑1491 to the bal­lot. I‑1491, which NPI sup­ports, is based on leg­is­la­tion that did­n’t make it out of the state­house in Olympia, and would give judges the author­i­ty to tem­porar­i­ly bar a per­son from access­ing firearms.

Here’s how it would work:

Extreme Risk Pro­tec­tion Orders are mod­eled on our well-estab­lished sys­tems of Domes­tic Vio­lence and Sex­u­al Assault Pro­tec­tion Orders with care­ful pro­tec­tions for due process and stan­dards for evi­dence. After a fam­i­ly mem­ber files a peti­tion, the court holds a hear­ing and deter­mines whether the per­son pos­es a seri­ous threat of vio­lence to them­selves or oth­ers. The judge can issue an order restrict­ing access to firearms for up to one year and can also refer the per­son in cri­sis for eval­u­a­tion to ensure they get the help they need.

Once a peti­tion is filed, the court noti­fies the sub­ject and a hear­ing is held. If the evi­dence of a threat is upheld by a judge, the order is put in place for one year and can be renewed annu­al­ly should cir­cum­stances war­rant. The sub­ject may request one hear­ing a year to rescind the order. Vio­la­tion of the order car­ries a crim­i­nal penalty.

Last month, on NPI’s behalf, Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling asked a sam­ple of like­ly Wash­ing­ton vot­ers how they would vote on I‑1491 if the elec­tion were being held now. Vot­ers were read the bal­lot title (which is how I‑1491 will be pre­sent­ed on the bal­lot) and asked to respond. Here’s the word­ing of the ques­tion and the answers:

There will be a mea­sure on Wash­ing­ton’s Novem­ber 2016 bal­lot called Ini­tia­tive 1491. The descrip­tion reads as fol­lows: Ini­tia­tive Mea­sure No. 1491 con­cerns court-issued extreme risk pro­tec­tion orders tem­porar­i­ly pre­vent­ing access to firearms. This mea­sure would allow police, fam­i­ly, or house­hold mem­bers to obtain court orders tem­porar­i­ly pre­vent­ing firearms access by per­sons exhibit­ing men­tal ill­ness, vio­lent or oth­er behav­ior indi­cat­ing they may harm them­selves or oth­ers. If the elec­tion were being held now, would you def­i­nite­ly vote yes, prob­a­bly vote yes, prob­a­bly vote no, or def­i­nite­ly vote no on Ini­tia­tive 1491?

  • Yes: 73%
    • Def­i­nite­ly vote yes: 56%
    • Prob­a­bly vote yes: 17%
  • No: 21%
    • Prob­a­bly vote no: 11%
    • Def­i­nite­ly vote no: 10%
  • Not sure: 5%

This sur­vey of 679 like­ly Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field from June 14th-15th, 2016; all respon­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed via land­line. The poll has a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.8% at the 95% con­fi­dence level.

The over­all “Yes” fig­ure is cer­tain­ly impres­sive (73%!), but what real­ly stands out is that an out­right major­i­ty of vot­ers fall into the Def­i­nite­ly vote yes camp. That 56% num­ber sug­gests that most Wash­ing­to­ni­ans are very enthu­si­as­tic about I‑1491.

Many ini­tia­tives start out of the gate with good topline num­bers, but their sup­port can be shal­low… a mile wide and an inch deep, as the old adage goes. Our research sug­gests that the cam­paign to pass I‑1491 does not have that problem.

The NRA and the gun lob­by will prob­a­bly mount a vocal NO cam­paign. But as we proved in 2014, the NRA and the gun lob­by can be defeat­ed at the bal­lot. Gun vio­lence is pre­ventable, and with smart, strong, and effec­tive laws like I‑1491, we can save lives and expand free­dom for all.

The Unit­ed States Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence, adopt­ed two hun­dred and forty years ago by the Con­ti­nen­tal Con­gress, mem­o­rably declares, “We hold these truths to be self-evi­dent, that all men are cre­at­ed equal, that they are endowed by their Cre­ator with cer­tain unalien­able Rights, that among these are Life, Lib­er­ty and the pur­suit of Hap­pi­ness.” These impor­tant and inspir­ing words have res­onat­ed with Amer­i­cans through­out our coun­try’s his­to­ry. Gen­er­a­tions of pro­gres­sive activists have tire­less­ly worked to expand free­dom to make these words less hol­low and more mean­ing­ful for their chil­dren and their chil­dren’s children.

Pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions suc­ceed­ed in abol­ish­ing legal­ized slav­ery, out­law­ing oppres­sive child labor, and advanc­ing civ­il rights for minori­ties. We now have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to build on the progress they have made. Our coun­try faces a gun vio­lence epi­dem­ic that threat­ens all of the unalien­able rights explic­it­ly men­tioned in the Unit­ed States Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence. If we tru­ly believe in the idea that every one of us has the right to life, lib­er­ty, and the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness, then we need to act to pro­tect lives from being cru­el­ly and unnec­es­sar­i­ly cut short by gun violence.

I‑1491 is no panacea, but it will make our com­mu­ni­ties safer, espe­cial­ly in con­junc­tion with I‑594 and oth­er need­ed reforms.

Con­trary to what the gun lob­by says, stronger gun safe­ty laws do work — the expe­ri­ence of oth­er coun­tries teach­es us this. We do not have to accept rou­tine mass slaugh­ters as a grim real­i­ty in this coun­try. With sen­si­ble laws like I‑1491, we can do a bet­ter job of look­ing out for and pro­tect­ing each oth­er from harm, while still allow­ing respon­si­ble, law-abid­ing cit­i­zens to bear arms.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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