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Getting ‘personal’ about freedom, and politics in gun rights debate

NRA's Brian Judy (right, on the phone) and Alan Gottlieb (foreground) testified in Olympia earlier this year against I-594. Sitting next to Judy is Spokane gun dealer Robin Ball.
NRA's Brian Judy (right, on the phone) and Alan Gottlieb (foreground) testified in Olympia earlier this year against I-594. Sitting next to Judy is Spokane gun dealer Robin Ball.
Dave Workman

Today’s thoughtful Seattle Times column by Danny Westneat on the subject of freedom may touch a nerve with Washington gun rights activists because noticeable by its absence was any mention of what Initiative 594 — the 18-page gun control measure — will mean to the personal freedom of more than 1.5 million (by some estimates) Evergreen State gun owners.

I-594 is backed by the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a Seattle-based group largely funded by wealthy urban elitists. Their fund-raising appeals have tried to convince people they are the financial underdogs, when in reality WAGR has raised and spent twice the amount of gun rights advocates backing an alternative measure, Initiative 591.

It came on the heels of a blistering, and rather personal, jab at Brian Judy, the National Rifle Association’s state liaison, in a Saturday e-mail funding appeal from Zach Silk, the I-594 campaign manager. In that e-mail, Judy was described as a “heartless person” because during hearings earlier this year on I-594 in Olympia, he had the audacity to bluntly, albiet sarcastically, observe that Sandy Hook killer Adam Lanza murdered his own mother to steal her guns for that crime.

What is it that they say about political debate? When you are losing, shift to insult?

The e-mail also criticized Judy for being a resident of the Sacramento area in California. Oddly, there has been no similar discussion about how former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly — who appeared on the same day to testify for I-594 — live in Arizona. The man who shot Giffords passed a background check.

Nor was there any mention of the May 17 e-mail sent to presumed I-594 supporters over the name of Sgt. Dave Hoover, a Colorado policeman whose nephew was an Aurora theater shooting victim, asking for support of the gun control package. The accused gunman there passed a background check. Likewise, there has been no discussion of how I-594 has been supported by Michael Bloomberg’s “Everytown for Gun Safety” in a June 6 fund raising appeal. Everytown is headquartered in New York.

Judy and Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, dismantled I-594 Olympia in January and dissected it for the Seattle Times Editorial Board last Thursday. It should be no surprise a WAGR fund raising appeal would try to characterize Judy as “heartless.” WAGR’s Facebook page also takes a poke at Gottlieb.

TVW recorded Thursday’s discussion, which was actually a debate between Judy and Gottlieb, and I-594 supporters Cheryl Stumbo and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. It was during that session that Stumbo acknowledged that if I-594 passes, it will expand this state’s handgun registry to all sales, even transactions between family members. Up to now, I-594 backers have been accusing “the gun lobby” of deception when this subject came up.

Essentially, expansion of the handgun registry in this state makes I-594, according to Judy’s testimony before the Times editorial writers, a “universal handgun registration bill.” One might argue over semantics, and whether this creates a “new” registry or simply grows the existing one, the result will be the same.

Silk apparently had an opportunity to confront Judy in person last week in debate before WACOPS, the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, but Satterberg appeared instead. Several people in the firearms community have been quietly observing that Satterberg is taking ownership of this initiative, despite advising the Times board that he did not author the measure.

Last year, WAGR complained in a fund-raiser that I-591 was launched by “a bunch of gun lobbyists” who “would prevent simple criminal background checks here in Washington.” That’s not true and they know it, and after last week, so do the law enforcement professionals at WACOPS and the Times editorial board.

I-591 would, according to Gottlieb’s presentation, along with Spokane gun range operator and retailer Robin Ball, maintain existing background checks that are done on a uniform national standard. Ball told the Times board that if I-594 passes, it will create conflicts between state and federal gun law, and she was the only bonafide authority in the room on that subject.

Westneat’s column about freedom, and its alleged erosion that might be due to a more liberal Seattle mindset, quoted a report from George Mason Universty’s Mercatus Center, which said that this state is “well above average in terms of personal freedom.” That includes state gun laws, which the report described as “quite modest.”

I-594 would, according to opponents like Judy and Gottlieb, change that. They’re delivering that message, apparently effectively else the WAGR attacks would probably not single them out.

Maybe Satterberg, in his advocacy before the Times board, explained it best from the WAGR perspective: “Is it a hassle? Yeah there’s a lot of things that we do that are hassles (such as car emissions testing)…Yeah that’s an intrusion of liberty, yeah that’s a hassle but it’s for the betterment of society.”

Over the next four months, as debate over the initiatives heats up with what could be a fortune spent by I-594 backers to influence the election outcome, voters will ultimately decide whether eroding liberty really does benefit society. In the process, they may judge the credibility of groups that launch personal attacks on people who advocate a different viewpoint.

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