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Efforts to increase gun control received a major boost on Friday, when Bill and Melinda Gates donated $1 million to the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility to be applied to a campaign called Initiative 594, or I-594. The state initiative would require background checks for all gun sales and transfers in Washington state (even on the Internet) except for certain special circumstances like gifts within a family. In a statement released Monday, the couple wrote that they feel the initiative “will be an effective and balanced approach to improving gun safety in our state by closing existing loopholes for background checks.”
Federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on prospective purchasers and to maintain records of the sales. But unlicensed private sellers — online and at gun shows, for example — are not required to observe the same policies. And about 40 percent of firearms sold in the country are transferred by such private sellers, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Early last year, 345,000 Washington residents began pushing for [I-594] to appear on a ballot. They will have the chance to vote for the measure during the midterm elections in November.
The Seattle-based alliance, created in January 2013, has raised nearly $6 million, with the help of previous donations from venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, Gates’s fellow Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife, Connie. A rival campaign, Initiative 591, would prevent Washington lawmakers from following legislation that places additional restrictions beyond the national standard for background checks.
A July poll found that 70 percent of Washington voters were “inclined to vote” for I-594, while 46 percent were inclined to vote for I-591 (32 percent said they would vote for both). According to pollster Stuart Elway, while support for I-594 remained steady, voters were less inclined to vote for I-591 than they had been in previous months. Over 90 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun purchases.
Joanna Rothkopf is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on science, health and society. Follow @JoannaRothkopf or email email@example.com.More Joanna Rothkopf.