Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Monday applauded an attempt by a coalition of gun-regulation groups to intervene against a lawsuit seeking to roll back the new law expanding background checks on gun buyers.
A lawsuit filed in December by gun-rights supporters alleges Initiative 594 violates the Second Amendment and can inadvertently criminalize people because its language is too vague. Ferguson, along with the state Attorney General's Office and Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste, are currently named as defendants.
On Monday, the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, I-594 citizen sponsor Cheryl Stumbo and the local arm of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Everytown for Gun Safety filed to join the defendants in the lawsuit.
"It's my role to defend initiatives lawfully passed by the people of Washington state, and my office will do so vigorously," Ferguson wrote in an email. "We welcome the participation of the backers of the initiative in the process."
The move, which a judge must first approve, would allow the groups to file motions and offer a full defense of a law they campaigned hard to enact.
Approved by 59 percent of voters last November, Initiative 594 expanded background checks on gun buyers beyond the federal standard to private sales like some found online or at gun shows.
But the lawsuit lays out concerns by firearms-training groups, private security guards and inspectors, and others. Among the plaintiffs are the Northwest School of Safety; Puget Sound Security Inc.; Firearms Academy of Seattle; the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation; and Alan Gottlieb, the foundation's executive vice president.
In quick succession Monday morning, Gottlieb ticked off two reasons for gun-rights supporters to take heart with the new developments.
"I think the other side has now realized that our challenge has some very good merit to it," he said. "The second thing is I think it shows a vote of 'no confidence' in the Attorney General's Office in being able to defend."
It is common for groups that have pushed initiatives to later become involved in the related lawsuits, according to Hugh Spitzer, acting professor of law at the University of Washington's School of Law.
In this case, "it enables the proponents to supplement the arguments that the attorney general makes," said Spitzer.
The development comes as gun-rights supporters have ricocheted between rallies and hearings at the Legislature, trying to find support to change or repeal I-594, or send it back to voters in a referendum.
But those bills appear to have died in the Democrat-controlled House. And a January rally at the Capitol against I-594 succeeded only in the banning of guns in the Legislature's viewing galleries after armed demonstrators entered those areas.
Stumbo, I-594's citizen sponsor and a survivor of the 2006 Jewish Federation shootings in Seattle, described the lawsuit as a frivolous action brought by the gun lobby.
"The same individuals who failed to weaken our state's gun laws in last year's election are now using the court system to do exactly that," Stumbo said in prepared remarks.