Gun Control Initiative Launched with Veteran of Gay Marriage Campaign; Differences Abound

It’s official: A gun control initiative campaign, quietly discussed for months, is underway. The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a new coalition backed by wealthy venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, made the announcement yesterday.

As expected, the measure would, if passed, mandate universal background checks. It is to be an initiative to the legislature, meaning that it will hit Olympia first—arriving in early 2014—and only go before voters in November of next year if legislators fail to act.

Zach Silk, fresh off a momentous win last November, having headed the referendum campaign leading to gay marriage, is serving as campaign manager of this newest initiative. He tells Seattle Weekly that he believes that the gun control measure is starting from a place of even greater strength.

When it came to gay marriage, polls before the referendum showed only a slight majority of Washingtonians in favor. With guns, “we’re starting out with eight out of 10 voters with us,” Silk says, pointing to an Elway poll in March. Washington CeaseFire got similar results from a poll in January.

But CeaseFire executive director Ralph Fascitelli cautions that the support, while broad, is “soft.” He says, “We don’t have the zealots.” He contrasts that with gay marriage, which he says had an ardent minority that proved effective in lobbying legislators. The ardent minority on the gun issue, Fascitelli says, “is on the other side.”

The gun rights zealots comes out in force during legislative battles. Witness the failed attempt to pass background check bills in both Olympia and Washington D.C., despite heavy-hitting support at both levels.

That’s why Fascitelli argued within the coalition that an initiative should bypass the legislature and go straight to the people—and immediately, not next year. Whereas support for gay marriage builds over time, Fascitelli says, enthusiasm for gun control is “episodic,” with the highest degree of fervor following horrific shootings like last December’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.

But Silk and others in the coalition felt a longer-term strategy, one that included the legislature, was best. Silk contends that it’s legislators’ responsibility to take on difficult issues like gun control. “We’re not going to let them off the hook,” he says. He also says he believes that a district-by-district strategy of signature-gathering and coalition-building will convince legislators that they should “follow the will of the people.” And if not, there’s always the November ballot.

Fascitelli says he’s fallen in line behind this strategy, despite the disagreement. “It’s all coming together,” he says. And he suggests that the extra time may be useful for gay marriage veterans who are new to the gun control issue. “There’s a learning curve,” he says.

And there’s one more benefit to waiting a year: money. Potential national donors, including New York City Mayor and gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg, have indicated they’re more likely to contribute in 2014, when midterm elections will bring a bigger voter turnout.

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