Alliance for Gun Responsibility marchers at the 2016 Pride Parade
Alliance for Gun Responsibility marchers at the 2016 Pride Parade

Tomor­row, the Alliance for Gun Respon­si­bil­i­ty is expect­ed to sub­mit more than three hun­dred and fifty thou­sand sig­na­tures to the Sec­re­tary of State in sup­port of Ini­tia­tive 1639, a mea­sure that aims to make our com­mu­ni­ties safer by sen­si­bly restrict­ing sales of dead­ly semi­au­to­mat­ic weapons.

If approved in Novem­ber, the Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s office says I‑1639 would:

… require enhanced back­ground checks, firearm train­ing, and wait­ing peri­ods before semi­au­to­mat­ic assault rifles may be pur­chased or deliv­ered. It would impose age lim­i­ta­tions on who may pur­chase or pos­sess cer­tain firearms, includ­ing pro­hibit­ing firearm pur­chas­es by per­sons under age twen­ty-one. It would require cer­tain secured firearm stor­age or trig­ger-locks, and crim­i­nal­ize cer­tain firearm stor­age if it results in unau­tho­rized use. It would enact oth­er firearm-relat­ed require­ments, includ­ing cer­tain warn­ings, record­keep­ing, and fees.

I‑1639 is the third ini­tia­tive spear­head­ed by the Alliance for Gun Respon­si­bil­i­ty. The Alliance pre­vi­ous­ly qual­i­fied I‑594 and I‑1491 to the bal­lot in 2014 and 2016, respec­tive­ly, with each mea­sure win­ning approval from voters.

I‑594 elim­i­nat­ed dan­ger­ous back­ground check loop­holes, while I‑1491 cre­at­ed extreme risk pro­tec­tion orders — a tool to enable fam­i­lies and law enforce­ment to pro­tect peo­ple who may be a dan­ger to them­selves or others.

Now the Alliance wants to give Wash­ing­to­ni­ans the oppor­tu­ni­ty to enact anoth­er law that would pre­vent gun vio­lence and make com­mu­ni­ties safer.

But hav­ing gone 0 for 2 against the Alliance in pre­vi­ous years, Wash­ing­ton’s right wing has appar­ent­ly lost its appetite for anoth­er bal­lot battle.

Instead of sim­ply mak­ing prepa­ra­tions to wage a no cam­paign, a league of gun enthu­si­ast groups and right wing activists orga­nized by Alan Got­tlieb launched a des­per­ate effort ear­li­er this week to block I‑1639 from going to the ballot.

Yes, you read that cor­rect­ly: Got­tlieb’s crew is try­ing to have peti­tions bear­ing the sig­na­tures of hun­dreds of thou­sands of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans invalidated.

Why? Because they argue the text on the back of the peti­tions is too small.

And no, I’m not jok­ing. Here’s Alan Gottlieb:

Dur­ing the sig­na­ture gath­er­ing process… we were con­tact­ed by sev­er­al peo­ple who were alarmed at the unread­abil­i­ty of the text, and also because they could not real­ly tell what changes they were being asked to make to exist­ing law. The micro­scop­ic maze of fine print used by the ini­tia­tive spon­sors dis­guised the actu­al lan­guage of the mea­sure on the back of their peti­tions, which vio­lates state law. Read­ing that peti­tion is like tak­ing a bad eye exam.

Got­tlieb’s press release quotes from the pro­vi­sion of state law his group believes was vio­lat­ed, but does­n’t cite it. The rel­e­vant pro­vi­sions are found in Chap­ter 29A.72 RCW. For exam­ple, here is RCW 29A.72.100:

The per­son propos­ing the mea­sure shall print blank peti­tions upon sin­gle sheets of paper of good writ­ing qual­i­ty (includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to newsprint) not less than eleven inch­es in width and not less than four­teen inch­es in length. Each peti­tion at the time of cir­cu­lat­ing, sign­ing, and fil­ing with the sec­re­tary of state must con­sist of not more than one sheet with num­bered lines for not more than twen­ty sig­na­tures, with the pre­scribed warn­ing and title, be in the form required by RCW 29A.72.110, 29A.72.120, or 29A.72.130, and have a read­able, full, true, and cor­rect copy of the pro­posed mea­sure print­ed on the reverse side of the petition.

It’s worth not­ing that the statute does not spec­i­fy a min­i­mum font size for text on ini­tia­tive peti­tions. It says only that the text must be “read­able, full, true, and cor­rect”. The statute does not elab­o­rate on what “read­able” means.

As Got­tlieb is no doubt aware, it is fair­ly com­mon for the text on the reverse side of ini­tia­tive peti­tions to be set in a small font so as to ensure the entire text will fit on the sheets. NPI has fought dozens of right wing ini­tia­tives over the years that had their text in some pret­ty fine print and were thus arguably unread­able — cer­tain­ly for peo­ple lack­ing good to excel­lent eye­sight, or with far­sight­ed vision.

We’re not aware that Got­tlieb has ever com­plained about any right wing ini­tia­tives suf­fer­ing such a defect, let alone gone to court to have their peti­tions thrown out.

But it’s appar­ent Got­tlieb and com­pa­ny real­ly do not want I‑1639 going to the bal­lot. They do not want Wash­ing­to­ni­ans to vote on this measure.

So they looked for a pre­text for inval­i­dat­ing the I‑1639 petitions.

Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court Com­mis­sion­er Michael John­son slapped them down on Tues­day by deny­ing their motion for injunc­tive relief and dis­miss­ing their action. Got­tlieb, how­ev­er, is unde­terred. He’s already request­ing reconsideration.

In the past, when pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions have gone to court to chal­lenge right wing ini­tia­tives like Tim Eyman’s I‑1366 as beyond the scope of the ini­tia­tive pow­er, right wing voic­es have howled in protest. But now? Crickets.

What­ev­er hap­pened to let the peo­ple vote?

Seri­ous­ly… what­ev­er hap­pened to let the peo­ple vote!?

Attempt­ing to inval­i­date thou­sands of peti­tions on a tech­ni­cal­i­ty seems like exact­ly the kind of thing that Tim Eyman and his amen cho­rus would be up in arms about. After all, were the Alliance’s I‑1639 peti­tions to be thrown out, it would set a prece­dent that orga­ni­za­tions on our side of the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum could use to poten­tial­ly block right wing mea­sures from the bal­lot in the future.

But so far… they have been silent.

We are all for mak­ing ini­tia­tive peti­tions more acces­si­ble and eas­i­er to com­pre­hend, and we’d like to see the Leg­is­la­ture take up the mat­ter in 2019 when it meets again. We have long believed Wash­ing­ton is long over­due for reforms that will pro­tect the spir­it and the integri­ty of the Sev­enth Amend­ment to our Con­sti­tu­tion. In the mean­time, though, this legal chal­lenge to I‑1639 should be shot down and the mea­sure allowed to pro­ceed to the Novem­ber bal­lot if suf­fi­cient sig­na­tures have been sub­mit­ted — as it appears has been the case.

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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2 replies on “Whatever happened to “let the people vote”? Right wing voices silent as Alan Gottlieb’s group tries to block I‑1639 from the ballot”

  1. Are you argu­ing that tiny print on “right wing” ini­tia­tives is ille­gal but that tiny print on ini­tia­tives you sup­port isn’t?

    Because it sure seems that way.

  2. No, we’re point­ing out that the mantra “let the peo­ple vote” is disin­gen­u­ous when it applies only to right wing initiatives. 

    The spon­sors of I‑1639 pro­vid­ed their peti­tion to the Sec­re­tary of State for inspec­tion pri­or to begin­ning their dri­ve, and got approval. The sig­na­tures of hun­dreds of thou­sands of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans who would like the oppor­tu­ni­ty to vote on stronger gun safe­ty laws should not be dis­qual­i­fied now on a technicality.

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