October 2014 Bar Bulletin
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October 2014 Bar Bulletin

Plinking Gophers and Dueling Gun Measures


Most everyone called it "plinking" gophers. Clearly, however, that was not from the perspective of the gophers.

Some Sunday afternoons when I was a kid, my Dad would pull a couple of .22 rifles from the back of the closet where they were stored and we would drive his Ford pickup west of town. Our destination was a farm owned by a family friend named Red Brown. And, yes, he was as colorful as his name.

A couple of hours later, there were significantly fewer gophers chewing up Red's pastures. We would then drive back to town and the rifles were put away next to the shotguns used in the fall for pheasant hunting.

With those bona fides, I think I have some understanding of the roots of America's love affair with firearms. But the respectful relationship we had with guns in those days of plinking gophers could not be more removed from the daily, deadly drumbeat of gun violence today.

Whether it is the Cafe Racer rampage or the recent terror on SPU's campus, we find ourselves being regularly confronted by senseless gun violence on a numbingly routine basis. Meantime, political gridlock leaves our lawmakers unable to take the most basic steps to promote public safety by blocking the sale of firearms to felons, the mentally ill and other dangerous individuals. As recently as this year, Congress failed to act on such a measure, despite the fact that polls show that universal background checks for gun sales are supported by as much as 90 percent of U.S. voters.

This November, Washington voters will have an opportunity to decide whether a basic law-and-order measure, Initiative 594, should be adopted. It would make private sales of firearms in our state subject to the same background checks that are required when licensed gun dealers sell guns. In case you don't plan to read to the end of this column, the answer to that question is an emphatic, unequivocal "Yes."

In what can only be viewed as an effort at obfuscation, Washington voters will, at the same time, be asked to parse through Initiative 591 and its mumbo-jumbo about guns being confiscated without due process. As lawyers, each of us should read each and every word of Initiative 591 and then advise our friends and family members to pitch this red herring into the compost bin with a decisive "No" vote.

Previous issues of the Bar Bulletin have detailed the good work of KCBA's Public Policy Committee and its Gun Safety Subcommittee over the past year. Suffice it to say, the Committee approached both initiatives in a methodical and analytical manner. The Committee did its research, culminating in personal meetings with proponents and opponents of the initiatives. First they met with representatives of the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility (proponents of Initiative 594). Next they met with Alan Gottlieb whose Second Amendment Foundation and Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms are leading opponents of Initiative 594. The Citizens Committee is also the sponsor of Initiative 591.

On the basis of its research, the Public Policy Committee proposed the adoption of a resolution by the KCBA Board of Trustees to support Initiative 594 and to oppose Initiative 591. Given the high-profile nature of this topic, the Board solicited comments from the membership as a whole before acting. Lawyers are seldom shy about sharing their opinions. However, the number of responses - 584 or nearly 10 percent of KCBA's membership - demonstrated the depth of member interest in this issue. Of those responding, an overwhelming 78 percent supported adoption of a resolution by the Board.

Following review of all of the comments received from members, and with significant and thoughtful debate, the Board adopted a resolution supporting efforts to treat all sales of firearms in Washington, whether by licensed firearms dealers or through private sales, equally. (A copy of the resolution is on the KCBA website for your review.) The intent of such efforts would be to promote public safety by discouraging the sale of guns to individuals who are not eligible to possess a firearm under existing Washington law, RCW ch. 9.41. Chief among those efforts at this time is the adoption of Initiative 594, which the Board also explicitly endorsed.

The Board also opposed adoption of Initiative 591 as unnecessarily ceding to Congress and federal regulators exclusive control over background checks. The Board observed that "Initiative 591, by further proposing a prohibition on any government agency of the state confiscating guns or other firearms from citizens of the state without due process, incorrectly suggests that guns or other firearms have been or may be confiscated from citizens of the state without due process." As KCBA members will recognize, Initiative 591 is not an accurate reflection of state or federal law. Citizens are in fact already afforded due process in connection with any potential confiscation of firearms.

Clearly the world has become a more complex place since my boyhood days of plinking gophers. However, the resolution of the Board cuts through some of the noise with a simple recommendation: Yes on 594. No on 591.

I urge you to vote.

KCBA President Steve Rovig is a principal with Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson P.S. where his practice emphasizes commercial real estate. Rovig can be reached at steve.rovig@hcmp.com or 206-470-7620.


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