While opposition to a citizen gun control initiative is building on social media, a report in Wednesday’s Boston Globe by an admitted anti-gun columnist, and the reaction from many readers, provides a perfect illustration for Second Amendment activists about what they’re up against.
Social media – especially Facebook – is filling up with reactions to images of what critics say is misleading signage at tables where paid signature gatherers are scrambling to get more than 259,600 valid voter signatures on Initiative 1639, the gun control measure that appears to classify any semi-automatic rifle, including rimfires used for small game and recreational target shooting, as “assault rifles.”
And that’s where a column by the Boston Globe’s Joan Vennochi can be a useful learning tool for Northwest gun owners. “As for guns, generally,” she wrote, “I like to imagine a world without them. But offered a chance, with colleagues, to learn more about them, I recently spent several hours at a shooting range,” where, she admitted, “My prejudices came with me. A firearm, loaded or not, is menacing.”
After firing an AR-15 at a gun range, Vennochi observes, “if someone like me can easily hit a target, it’s terrifying to imagine the same weapon in the hands of someone on a mission to kill.”
What did Vennochi learn from her experience? Evidently, nothing; she spent 665 words reinforcing her prejudices. The column is receiving a lot of reader feedback, much of it opposed to gun ownership.
Therein lies the lesson for gun owners in Washington and neighboring Oregon, where there are attempts to strictly regulate so-called “semi-auto assault weapons” north of the Columbia River, or ban them outright, south of the river. Lots of people, including journalists, hate firearms. Period.
Some might even get visceral when they realize that next Tuesday is the tenth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms that is not dependent upon militia service.
Where I-1639 defines a “semiautomatic assault rifle” as: “any rifle which utilizes a portion of the energy of a firing cartridge to extract the fired cartridge case and chamber the next round, and which requires a separate pull of the trigger to fire each cartridge.” That would include any self-loading .22-caliber rimfire rifle, critics argue, including the Ruger 10/22 and Marlin Model 60; guns that have been around for generations.
On Thursday, a new thread criticizing I-1639 for its eligibility requirements popped up on Facebook:
“NEW SECTION. Sec. 15. A new section is added to chapter 9.41 RCW to read as follows: (1) Within twelve months of the effective date of this section, the department of licensing shall, in conjunction with the Washington state patrol and other state and local law enforcement agencies as necessary, develop a cost-effective and efficient process to: (a) Verify, on an annual or more frequent basis, that persons who acquired pistols or semiautomatic assault rifles pursuant to this chapter remain eligible to possess a firearm under state and federal law; and (b) If such persons are determined to be ineligible for any reason, (i) notify and provide the relevant information to the chief of police or the sheriff of the jurisdiction in which the purchaser resides and (ii) take steps to ensure such persons are not illegally in possession of firearms. (2) The department of licensing, where appropriate, may consult with individuals from the public and private sector or ask the individuals to establish a temporary advisory committee to accomplish the purposes in subsection (1) of this section. Members of such an advisory committee are not entitled to expense reimbursement.”
I-1639 spans 30 pages. It is reproduced in very small print on the backside of each initiative petition form. That print size is an apparent problem for lots of people who have contacted the Second Amendment Foundation and/or Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Those groups have, through their attorney, warned I-1639 sponsors about the problem and that it should be fixed. So far, the attorney’s letter appears to have been ignored.
Opponents are advising people to read the initiative before signing. Others are simply discouraging people from adding their signatures. It’s a grassroots effort with little or no funding, taking on a powerful and well-financed gun control lobbying group based in Seattle, a classic David v. Goliath contest.