I bought two tickets to the gun show, but the new law meant it was a waste of time

Gun background check initiative  passes, pisses off less people than it pleases

By Oscar Stephens-Willis

Originally published in the December 2014 issue. 

Earlier this month, the residents of Washington State voted the pro-gun control initiative 594 into passing, to the general acceptance of [mostly] everyone.

Reasoning behind the initiative is that it completes the closing of a loophole in law that allows people to purchase guns without getting a background check that would reveal if they were convicted felons, mentally unstable, or perpetrators of domestic abuse.

On one side, we had the initiative 594, not proposing stronger background checks, just that everyone be subject to them.

On the other, we had initiative I-591, which said that we should have no background checks on guns. Like, ever.

The motivation behind I-591 was (just the actual language of the initiative itself) simple. Yet, despite numerous attempts, no one who represented the movement would speak to me, meaning the description that follows is that of their opposition (who were more than co-operative).

“The gun lobby proponents of Initiative 591 were very clear about their intentions: to block 594 and weaken Washington’s existing gun laws,” Geoff Potter, Communications Director for the Washing Alliance for Gun Responsibility said. “The people of Washington saw through the gun lobby’s misleading claims and false attacks, rejected its measure, and closed the background check loophole.”

Why wouldn’t you want the loophole closed? One of the arguments (and I suspect one of the ‘more important’ reasons) against the checks is that when buying a handgun, you have to register it, and that means there is a government list with the names of everyone who owns a gun.

Previously, people had been able to purchase guns online, from friends or at gun shows without first receiving a criminal background check, meaning that convicted felons could purchase guns illegally.

This is apparently bad, because that means the government will be able to find you easier when they come to take yer guns. Except, they probably won’t come to take yer guns, because what a lot of people fail to realize is that they aren’t actually important enough for ‘the government/man/powers that be’ to show up at their house and take their shit. That isn’t how life works, because we don’t live in the movies, and you’re not in The Matrix. The idea of keeping guns to fight off the government may have made sense in the time of the musket, but we now (for better or worse) exist in the time of the drone.

If you’re on your own, and the government send the FBI over, 9 out of ten times, you don’t win that particular battle.

Simply, the general consequence of the new legislation is that it makes purchasing guns just that little bit more above board. That should surely be, even if you can’t stretch to consider it a good thing, as not an unreasonable thing?

In fact, one could make the argument that by not only attempting to halt this new minutely stricter checking system and actually removing the checks completely, you’re directly getting involved in making convicted criminals get guns easier. Certainly if you voted for 591, you’re opening the doors for everyone.

With 10 separate gun shows in the month of November taking place in Washington state, it wouldn’t have been hard to get a gun with no background check.

I went to a gun show earlier this month (because no one representing I-591 would return my messages) where the firearm vendors, upon learning I was there to write an article, refused to talk to me.

One man named Tony (with the firmest handshake known to humanity) did tell me though, that the new law meant that if he handed me one of the handguns on his table, we would both be felons. This idea stems from the language used in 594. The term used to define gun sales is ‘transaction’, something that Tony and his compatriots consider to be too broad. What exactly is a transaction, he asked. It could be just me handing something to you.

He went on to insist  that a gun was merely a tool, just like a hammer or a chisel, and people needed to educate themselves more. He wouldn’t, however, let me take a picture of his ‘toolkit’.

I-594 has (obviously) faced heavy criticism from their opponents. One point  is that I-594 was vastly more funded in its lobbying efforts than 591, which isn’t unfounded. I-594 raised over $10 million, while 591 raised just over $1 million.

Another large criticism of I-594 was that it wouldn’t do anything to prevent criminals, pointing out that if someone is going to break the law, they’re going to break the law regardless of any loopholes that have been covered.

Not necessarily, it would seem.

“We know that in the states with background checks on all handgun sales,” Potter said. “38% fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partners and 39% fewer law enforcement officers are murdered with handguns. Initiative 594 won’t prevent all future acts of gun violence, but it will reduce crime and save lives.”

States with extra gun control supply evidence that the more we check people’s background, the less crime there is. Gun trafficking is 64% lower, for example. Gun suicide rate is 49% lower. Currently, undercover investigations suggest that 62% of online gun sellers are willing to sell to someone without a background check.

In regards to domestic violence, an abused woman is five times more likely to be killed if her partner owns a firearm.

If I-594 is merely taking care of a loophole, what’s the real damage? even if it doesn’t make a huge difference to gun crime, even if only (according to those behind 591) 0.8% of felons purchase guns at gun shows, that’s still going to get rid of that 0.8%.

It would seem that the I-594 passing could be the sign of the majority of people agreeing with me. Over 9,000 people donated money in some capacity to I-594, and Washington became the first state that managed to close a gun check loophole on a state level by a vote.

Those who disagree with the idea have certainly raised their voice. In Olympia on December 13th, there will be an anti-594 march. With the Facebook group listing as 6.2k attending, it could potentially be an exciting day out.

On the Facebook page, organizer Gavin Seim states:

“The Constitution is the supreme law and our God given rights are NOT open for negotiation. We will buy and sell guns from whom we please, we will not submit to background checks, we will not give up our rights, WE WILL NOT Comply.”

“We will rally at the capital, openly exchange guns, unveil and plan to break apart the legislation and violate I-594 in every possible way.”

Geoff Potter remains more positive however.

“This victory is more than just a victory for Washington,” Potter said. “It shows states around the country that they can stand up to the gun lobby in support of common-sense gun laws on their own – and win.”

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