By Dave Workman | Senior Editor
The Second Amendment Foundation has filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Wash., that challenges the constitutionality of portions of Initiative 594, the billionaire-backed 18-page gun control measure passed by voters Nov. 4 that could be the most important election issue of 2014.
I-594 was supported by anti-gun billionaire Michael Bloomberg and his $50 million “grassroots” lobbying organization, Everytown for Gun Safety. It was sponsored by the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which was financially supported by Evergreen State billionaires Nick Hanauer, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Paul Allen, along with slightly less wealthy Seattle-area elitists.
Their campaign raised and spent more than $10 million, while opponents of the measure, who had a competing initiative on the ballot, raised less than $1.5 million.
The National Rifle Association, in a separate effort, spent about $500,000 solely to fight I-594.
SAF is joined by several local security and firearms training entities including the Northwest School of Safety, Puget Sound Security, Inc., the Pacific Northwest Association of Investigators, and the Firearms Academy of Seattle, one of the nation’s more prominent firearms training schools. In addition, six individual plaintiffs including SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb and his son, Andrew, and Gene Hoffman, chairman of the Calguns Foundation, are parties. Andrew Gottlieb resides in Arizona and Hoffman is a California resident.
They are represented by Seattle attorneys Steven Fogg and David Edwards, and Bellevue attorney Miko Tempski.
“We’re not trying to stop background checks,” Gottlieb insisted in a press release. “We’re taking action against a poorly-written and unconstitutionally vague measure that criminalizes activities that are perfectly legal anywhere else in the country, thus striking at the very heart of a constitutionally-protected, fundamental civil right.”
During the campaign, I-594 backers accused Gottlieb and the NRA of trying to “roll back” the state’s background check requirements. They refuted the argument by noting that the National Instant Check System is a federal requirement that no state can undo.
Named as defendants, in their official capacities, are Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste.
In addition to Hoffman and the younger Gottlieb – who travel in Washington frequently – is Joe Waldron, legislative director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms – SAF’s sister organization – and Chairman/treasurer of the Gun Owners’ Action League of Washington. Waldron is the former CCRKBA executive director, and former president of the Washington Arms Collectors, and like the other non-residents, is licensed to carry a concealed handgun in the Evergreen State.
For them, I-594 poses a major problem. If they travel to Washington, they are concerned about bringing firearms along, because there is a serious question about “transfer” of their gun to anyone handling their baggage, especially officers with the Transportation Safety Administration. Under I-594, the term “transfer” is defined as “the intended delivery of a firearm to another person without consideration of payment or promise of payment, including, but not limited to, gifts and loans.”
The gun control measure requires that all transfers be done through a federally-licensed firearms dealer. However, under federal law, dealers cannot legally transfer handguns to residents of other states,” Gottlieb noted.
“I-594 also essentially prohibits our non-resident plaintiffs from storing their own firearms here,” he said. “This measure effectively infringes upon, if not outright prohibits, the exercise of their constitutionally-protected right to bear arms under the Second Amendment.”
Among the allegations in the 31-page complaint are that language in I-594 is “so vague that a person of ordinary intelligence cannot understand its scope, which renders it subject to arbitrary enforcement.”
“For example,” the complaint says, “it is unclear whether I-594 applies in situations involving the following types of activity: family members’ common use of a firearm stored in the family’s gun-safe, where no delivery takes place to another person; employees’ common use of a firearm stored in a company’s gun-safe, where no delivery takes place to another person; the intended delivery of a firearm to a common carrier, such as FedEx, for the purposes of shipping (or) the intended delivery of a firearm to a storage facility, such as a safety deposit box…” The complaint cites other examples as well.
“The agencies of the State of Washington,” the complaint adds, “have so far either disclaimed the responsibility to interpret I-594 or provided interpretations that are so far removed from the language as to be useless.”
This is a reference to the state Department of Licensing, which has a recorded message to inquiries about I-594 that it cannot provide legal advice. It may also apply to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which sent an advisory to its volunteer hunter education instructors on Dec. 2 regarding transfers of firearms during hunter safety courses.
“The guidance…stated, in part, that transfers between a Department hunter education instructor and a student are exempt because the instructor is an employee of the Department, which is in turn exempt as a law enforcement agency,” the complaint asserts. “The guidance goes on to note, however, that transfers between students would not be exempt, but that instructors could avoid I-594 by engaging in a straw-man transfer by taking the firearm from one student and handing it to another.”
“The broad and poorly constructed restrictions in I-594 render the enactment unconstitutional,” the lawsuit contends. So far, the complaint notes, the plaintiffs are not aware of any arrests, citations or prosecutions since the law took effect.
At the Olympia demonstration, hundreds of gun-toting activists either participated or watched as unloaded firearms were swapped back and forth under the eyes of onlooking State Patrol troopers.
“Shortly after I-594 passed,” the complaint says, “the Washington State Patrol, through its spokesman Bob Calkins, announced that the agency was not planning any arrests or citations of individuals planning to protest the passage of I-594 by trading firearms amongst themselves without subjecting the changes in possession to background checks.” Calkins at the time said, “We don’t think that we could prove that that’s a transfer.”