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Paul Allen, investors raise $2 million for Washington gun safety initiative

Supporters of the gun safety initiative have until July to enough collect signatures for Initiative 1639 to make it on the November ballot.

Gun safety advocates now have nearly $3 million for a new state initiative to tighten gun laws in Washington.

I-1639 would raise the age to buy semi-automatic rifles to 21, require enhanced background checks and impose safe-storage standards for guns.

More than two-thirds of the money for the initiative comes from two men, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and venture capitalist/political activist Nick Hanauer. Each donated $1 million.

I-1639 needs around 300,000 signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

News of the donations followed the Alliance for Gun Responsibility’s annual fundraising lunch Monday afternoon, held just days after the latest school shooting massacre in Texas. Organizers added a tribute to the victims of Santa Fe High School and a moment of silence to the previously scheduled event.

High school students headlined the event, representing a student movement that’s ignited following the tragedy in Parkland, Fla.

“Going to school every day and seeing my peers feel unsafe, as well as feeling unsafe myself has forced me to take a more active stance in the gun violence prevention movement,” student organizer Niko Battle told the crowd within the Westin ballroom.

Battle, a junior at Kamiak High School in Mukilteo, and his friend Alicia Heia, a senior at Ingraham High School in Seattle, co-founded the non-profit “We Won’t Be Next.”

Over the past several months they’ve organized student walk-outs, demonstrations, voter registration and outreach efforts.

Battle and Heia say they’re worried not only about mass shootings, but daily gun violence, citing a shooting outside of a graduation ceremony in Georgia, the same day as the tragedy in Texas.

“There is just so much gun violence that happens around us that is not on the national media, and that does need recognition and just needs to be on forefront of everyone's minds,” said Heia.

While gun safety advocates note a significant surge in support following the massacre in Parkland, Fla., the politics of gun reform remains just as polarized. A school safety and gun safety bill that would have increased restrictions on semi-automatic weapons stalled in the state legislature earlier this year.

Despite the bill’s failure, State Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, secured money in the budget to form a task force to examine security measures and determine ways to identify and intervene against potential perpetrators. The group, comprised of law enforcement, school officials, the ACLU and others, are expected to submit recommendations to the legislature by the end of the year.

However, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, wrote in a tweet, “WE HAVE A GUN PROBLEM,” arguing gun reform needs to be part of the larger discussion.

“It feels as if a lot of the changes that we see around campus are how to respond to that situation, not how to prevent it,” said Battle.

Battle and his friends plan to spend the month of June helping to rally support and campaign for Initiative 1639. However, organizers have not started gathering the around 300,000 signatures required to qualify for the November ballot, pending multiple legal challenges to the ballot’s title and description.

One challenge was filed by the NRA, another by individual Glen Morgan who argued the title and description of the initiative does not fully explain the full scope of new restrictions the measure would put in place.

In his brief, Morgan described the proposed changes as “unprecedented,” raising concern about raising the age to purchase of semi-automatic rifles and creating new safe storage standards.

Later this week, a judge is expected to set a court date to hear the legal challenge over the ballot title.

Supporters of I-1639 have until the beginning of July to collected the needed signatures.

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