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Independence Day weekend sparks new energy in dueling initiatives fight

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Updated: There were lots of fireworks last night as America celebrated its freedom, and in Washington State — the new ground zero in a political fight that is shaping up as a moral battle to protect that freedom — gun rights activists opposing Initiative 594 may have just gotten a boost from an unlikely source: The guy largely bankrolling the effort, discussed today in the Seattle Times.

It’s not that self-described “zillionaire” Nick Hanauer, who has dumped about $300,000 of his own money into I-594, is, or even should be the issue. But it’s what he, and billionaire Michael Bloomberg and a fair number of wealthy Seattle-area elitists represent: The “haves” who are backing a measure that seems to target a lot of people who don’t have the overwhelming personal financial resources to fight a political war.

Hanauer wrote an article the other day that, perhaps unwittingly, telegraphed a message to maybe two million Evergreen State gun owners whose rights he, Bloomberg and others seem intent to erode. That piece has been getting lots of attention on the Seattle Guns forum, and across the Internet.

Bloomberg’s $50 million so-called “grassroots” political lobby, “Everytown for Gun Safety,” officially entered the fray this past week. So did the National Rifle Association.

Hanauer’s article, which is quite readable and understandable — and that may contribute to the problem from the “Average Joe” gun owner’s perspective — is about how the hideously rich need to worry about the common folks coming for them with pitchforks. It suggests images of another revolution whose anniversary is marked this month, the French Revolution that was ignited by Bastille Day, July 14.

Wealthy people backing I-594, the 18-page gun control measure ostensibly about so-called “universal background checks,” aren’t so much afraid of pitchforks as they are pistols…and rifles and shotguns. Now that Bloomberg’s group has officially unveiled its “independent” thrust into Washington State politics, local grassroots efforts realize this is a fight about their traditions, lifestyle and privacy.

It did not help I-594 that a second major statewide law enforcement organization has come out against it. Police opinion when it comes to gun control issues is very important to a lot of voters, and when the cops think something is so wrong about a proposed gun law that they oppose it, people pay attention.

Ergo, the big money comes in to hopefully sway public opinion. Bloomberg, Hanauer and others have boatloads of cash. Many in the firearms community are convinced they will try to buy an election, and in the process, buy their rights to privacy and gun ownership.

The term “plutocrat” is used in the headline for Hanauer’s article and in Times columnist Danny Westneat’s report about that article. The United States isn’t a plutocracy, however. It’s a democratic (small “d”) republic that has been defended for more than two centuries by people with guns.

Many of those people see their gun rights in the crosshairs of the wealthy elitists. They live sometimes from paycheck to paycheck, have mortgages to pay and families to feed, which translates to homes and families to protect. They don’t live in gated communities or have the luxury of armed security. When seconds count, police are minutes or maybe hours away.

So, when someone or some thing threatens to make life a little more inconvenient and erode their privacy, they tend to resist. And they have a measure of their own, Initiative 591, which covers less than a single page and it essentially tells the plutocrats to mind their own business.

In a nutshell, I-591 prohibits government gun confiscation without due process, and also requires that background checks in Washington State comply with a uniform national standard. I-594 reaches well beyond current federal law, and requires background checks not just for sales, but for loans of firearms, putting a pricetag on letting your friend or in-law borrow a rifle or shotgun to go hunting, for example.

According to remarks from a Spokane gun dealer to the Seattle Times editorial board about ten days ago, provisions in the initiative might actually conflict with federal law. Firearms dealers do not want to cross into that twilight zone.

The NRA is not championing I-591; instead devoting its efforts to inform people about what is in I-594 that gun owners find so distasteful. I-591 is sponsored by Protect Our Gun Rights, a coalition that includes gun collectors, hunters, target shooters and law enforcement professionals.

As individuals, they may not have much more than votes, and maybe a $20 bill they can kick into the I-591 campaign now and then. Together, however, they have a powerful voice. They will be easily identified this summer and fall by bumper stickers, and by turnouts at picnics and gun shows, sporting goods stores, target ranges and hunting camps.

They won’t be carrying pitchforks, but more than 461,000 of them are licensed to carry defensive sidearms, and hundreds of thousands are licensed to hunt and fish. They’re not going to buy an election with millions of dollars, but they plan to win an election with their votes.

Maybe that’s what yesterday, with its family gatherings and fireworks displays was really all about. The people who put it all on the line 238 years ago to create this nation didn’t do it for hot dogs or cold beer, but for the idea that they could build a country where aristocrats don’t rule, and where everybody has a say.

Right now, they’re saying they want to be left alone to live their own lives as they see fit, not how the wealthy self-styled plutocrats hope to dictate.

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