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Is media deliberately ignoring law enforcement opposition to I-594?

Alan Gottlieb and Phil Shave delivered I-591 petitions to Olympia in December.
Alan Gottlieb and Phil Shave delivered I-591 petitions to Olympia in December.Dave Workman

( Updated 7/25 )Are Washington State news agencies deliberately ignoring rank-and-file law enforcement opposition to Initiative 594, the 18-page gun control measure endorsed by the Seattle Times, and financed largely by wealthy Seattle-area elites, while reporting – as did the Seattle P-I.com Monday – who supports the measure?

The answer appears to be "Yes." An alert to statewide press agencies sent out Thursday with a copy of a statement by one of two major Washington State law enforcement groups, opposing I-594 and supporting Initiative 591, was apparently ignored.

Tuesday night, at a meeting of the Washington State Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association (WSLEFIA) in Richland, representatives from the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs (WACOPS) handed out that group’s formal position statement on I-594. The handout also explained why WACOPS is supporting Initiative 591, the underdog grassroots measure that prevents government gun confiscation without due process. Together, the two groups represent some 5,500 active duty and retired Evergreen State peace officers.

It was the WACOPS statement that was forwarded to reporters by proponents of I-591. There does not appear to have been any attention paid to that statement.

As Examiner asked several days ago, posing questions about I-594, which ostensibly promotes so-called “universal background checks,” would public support for the gun control measure suffer if people knew about the widespread law enforcement opposition? Might that change the outcome of the Elway Poll, which last week showed strong support for the initiative?

Some gun rights activists are quietly wondering whether local news agencies would be running big headlines, had the law enforcement groups decided to support the gun control measure. Here’s what WACOPS says about I-594 that one might suspect its proponents don’t want people to see:

  • This measure is being billed as a public safety measure but we, as law enforcement officers, do not believe that this will keep guns out of the hands of criminals or the mentally ill. They will continue to ignore the law and engage in black market transactions.
  • The responsibility for enforcing this law – conducting background checks, investigating, and arresting citizens who do not comply – will fall on law enforcement diverting already scarce resources.
  • The restrictive compliance measures for transfers and loans of guns will cause law abiding citizens to unintentionally commit crimes and possibly be convicted of gross misdemeanors or Class C felonies.
  • There is debate as to whether this measure creates a gun registry. If it does not, the background checks are useless for enforcement. If it does, it is an infringement on the privacy rights of gun owners.

Interestingly, WACOPS did not make its decision until after hearing from both sides last month in Bellevue. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg appeared before the group to promote I-594. It is also worth noting that WACOPS heard a debate before they made a decision, unlike the League of Women Voters in Seattle, which came out early for I-594, according to I-591 campaign treasurer Phil Watson, and only subsequently wanted to host a debate on the “dueling initiatives,” which he declined.

WACOPS, in supporting I-591, which mandates that background checks comply with a uniform national standard, explained its position thusly: “This measure protects background check uniformity, allows the debate to continue on the federal level, and will allow WA state standards to change if, or when, federal standards change.”

WACOPS, according to its website, “is recognized as the largest, oldest and most influential organization representing law enforcement professionals in Washington State.” It’s membership includes representatives from law enforcement guilds across the state.

Maybe for all of these reasons, coverage of the WACOPS and WSLEFIA positions has been virtually non-existent. As Examiner asked back on July 16:

  • If you were told that rank-and-file law enforcement organizations in Washington were opposed to Initiative 594, which requires “universal background checks,” would you be more or less inclined to vote for it? More inclined (or) Less inclined?
  • If you were told that rank-and-file law enforcement organizations in Washington supported Initiative 591, which requires that background checks conform to a uniform national standard, would you be more or less inclined to vote for it? More inclined (or) Less inclined?

Phil Shave, retired Chief of Law Enforcement, Washington State Parks and former Washington State Criminal Justice Training, Advanced Training Unit Manager for 19 years – and currently the executive director of the Washington Arms Collectors, offered his analysis of I-594 on the WSLEFIA website. It offers a perspective that Evergreen State voters might consider before making a decision in November.