The National Rifle Association held a meeting in Bremerton on Tuesday to rally opposition against Initiative 1639.
NRA grassroots organizer Ben Carpenter called the initiative – which would restrict access to semi-automatic rifles and enact gun storage laws with criminal penalties – a “godawful” piece of legislation and implored those gathered to join in canvassing efforts to spur voter opposition to it.
“We’ve got to get out in droves,” Carpenter told an audience of about 40 people gathered at the Eagle’s Nest Community Room near the Kitsap County fairgrounds on Tuesday evening. “We’ve got to vote.”
Carpenter, a native of eastern Washington, spoke on behalf of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, a lobbying arm of the national gun rights organization. The event was one of several on a statewide tour of “grassroots workshops” meant to provide tools for pro-gun activists and other opponents of the initiative.
I-1639 will appear on the November 6 general election ballot. The law proposes mandatory firearm safety training requirements prior to the purchase of a semi-automatic weapon, a required application to local law enforcement and a 10-day waiting period. The purchasing age would also be raised to 21 for the weapons that supporters of the measure say are especially dangerous.
It has received support from gun safety proponents and wealthy donors like Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, former Microsoft executive and Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Seattle Times reported, something Carpenter and others seized upon as evidence the measure was being fueled by outside interests.
“This initiative has been bought and sold,” attendee Charles Ely said.
Opponents of the measure say they doubt that restricting legal access to semi-automatics will prevent those who would do harm from acquiring them.
Attendees also cited what they say is an overly broad definition of “semi-automatic assault rifle” that targets a wide range of guns popular among gun owners. Carpenter displayed a photo of a Ruger 10/22, a semi-automatic in production since the 1960s that uses a 10-round magazine, as an example of a weapon that would be unduly targeted.
Ely agreed with Carpenter, saying semi-automatics are some of the “most commonly used firearms” among gun owners.
“You can vote. You can get an abortion” if you’re under 21, Ely said. “But you can’t get a semi-automatic rifle?”
Arthur Smith, who doesn’t own guns himself but attended the event because of his support for the Second Amendment, said that proponents of the initiative were using the phrase assault rifle as a “political term.”
The proposed law defines a semi-automatic assault rifle as one that reloads without effort, or “utilizes a portion of the energy of a firing cartridge to extract the fired cartridge case and chamber the next round.”
Proponents cite deadly shootings in Newtown, Conn., Parkland, Fl., Las Vegas, Orlando, Fl., as well as Mukilteo and Tacoma, Wa. as examples of crimes committed using semi-automatic weapons, which can fire multiple rounds with relative ease.
The proposed law also introduces gun storage measures that supporters say will help keep firearms out of the hands of those who should not have them. Opponents say they may impede access to firearms when they are needed most.
Under the initiative, a person could be tried criminally if a gun is stored “in a location where the person knows, or reasonably should know, that a prohibited person may gain access to the firearm” – and the prohibited person is caught acting improperly with it.
Carpenter expressed strong opposition to the rule. He showed a slide saying the proposed law “requires firearms to be locked up,” next to a picture of a handgun locked with a chain.
He added that he locks up his firearms because he has kids, but everybody’s practices regarding gun storage are different.
Another section of the proposed law allows courts or state officials to access health care information “relevant to [an] applicant’s eligibility to purchase” a semi-automatic weapon, something that chafed opponents of the measure.
Marcus Carter said allowing access to medical records could lead to discrimination.
“If somebody is on an antidepressant, or has struggled with alcohol,” he said, “does the state get to determine whether that person has the right to have a gun?”
Carter, an officer with the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club and a vociferous opponent of I-1639, said the gun storage rules were too vague and could lead to unfair prosecutions of lawful gun owners.
He said he leads gun safety classes at his business and supports “common sense” gun regulations.
“The reality is that this is not it,” he said. “This is dangerous.”