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Judge tosses out signatures on Washington gun safety initiative

A gun safety initiative that would raise the purchase age of semi-automatic rifles to 21, require enhanced background checks, and a waiting period may not make it to the ballot in November.
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A Thurston County judge has thrown out more than 300,000 signatures to put a gun-control initiative on the November ballot.

Superior Court Judge James Dixon said the signature petitions for Initiative 1639 did not "comport" with state law. He ordered the secretary of state's office to stop certification of the ballot measure.

"Frankly, this court does not struggle with this issue," said Judge Dixon. "The petitions at issue do not contain, first, a readable copy. Ladies and gentlemen in the courtroom, I'm showing you what the petition looks like. I have 20/20 vision; I can't read it," he said holding up the petition in court.

Initiative 1639, backed by the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, would raise the purchase age of semi-automatic rifles to 21, incentivize secure storage, and require enhanced background checks and a waiting period similar to what’s required for handguns.

It would be the most sweeping gun safety initiative put before voters in recent history.

The National Rifle Association and Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation had filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Kim Wyman, claiming the petitions didn't follow the state law by failing to clearly mark what would change in the current law.

"This really had nothing to do with guns," said Alan Gottleib of the Second Amendment Foundation.

"While we obviously would have opposed the initiative on gun grounds, the problem is the initiative sponsors didn’t follow the law, or the constitution or the process. The law and constitution says it has to be a readable, true and correct copy of what’s going to be in the voters pamphlet, and be on the ballot, and they chose not to do that."

Gottleib says his attorneys sent the Alliance for Gun Responsibility a letter before the signatures were filed with the Secretary of States Office, requesting that they reprint the petitions.

Greg Wong, an attorney for I-1639's campaign, acknowledges a formatting mistake was made in leaving the "strike-through" lines off the back of the petition. However, he says the back of the petition contained all of the initiative's text.

"The petition substantially complied with the law," argues Wong. "Voters were not deceived; voters were not misled. They knew what they were doing when they signed the petition."

Alliance for Gun Responsibility CEO Renee Hopkins called the judge’s ruling was “shocking.”

“Today’s decision tossed out the signatures of more than 377,000 voters, and undermined the rights of the citizens of this state in favor of the interests of the gun lobby,” Hopkins said in a statement. “It’s not right, and we will continue to fight.”

RELATED: Opponents of new gun safety initiative promise another legal challenge

Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility has filed an appeal with the Washington State Supreme Court and requested an expedited review so the initiative can still make the November ballot.

Attorneys for both sides say the State Supreme Court has agreed to review the case, but the justices must weigh in by August 31 in order for the initiative to make this year's ballot.

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