The Washington State chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Alliance on Mental Illness/Washington (NAMI), while remaining neutral on a new gun control initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot, have raised serious questions about the measure in e-mail statements obtained by Liberty Park Press.
Additionally, Evergreen State Democrats earlier this year put forth a resolution that, while supporting the signature gathering effort for Initiative 1491 – the so-called “extreme risk protection order” measure – recognized the initiative has problems. The resolution urged “the State Legislature to amend the initiative after passage to clarify that mental illness is not the primary cause of mass shootings and to add due process for the mentally ill.”
But Democrats must know that the Legislature cannot normally take action on a citizen initiative for at least two years.
Taken together, these revelations amount to serious concerns about the initiative, backed by wealthy Seattle elitists at the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. That’s the same group that pushed through Initiative 594, the “universal background check” measure two years ago on claims that it would help prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands.
Opponents of I-1491 earlier this year heard from the ACLU of Washington via e-mail, which noted:
“We do not support the initiative because of the due process and other concerns outlined below. While keeping guns out of the hands of people who pose serious risks to safety is a reasonable public safety measure, the ACLU’s role is to evaluate such measures by their impact on civil liberties, and we have concerns that the initiative has inadequate due process procedures. Further, these deficient due process procedures could set a bad precedent for other criminal justice processes.”
The ACLU message, sent over the name of Legislative Director Shankar Narayan, then detailed its concerns:
1. The initiative allows a broad and vaguely defined group of people (family, household member, police) to seek the protection order. A protection order can be issued based on vague criteria (“significant danger”) that a person is an “extreme risk.” The protection order can be obtained from a judge ex parte – without notice to the person being accused. This severely limits the ability of a person to challenge an order once it is entered.
2. The initiative puts the burden of proof on the accused to show, after 12 months, that the order should be lifted. It is unclear how persons would prove their lack of danger. The concerns are compounded because of problems we’ve seen with other kinds of protection orders in WA: Although they are initially temporary, after a period of time, there are efforts to expand the scope of the orders to make them permanent, or to further abridge the due process provisions.
3. The initiative requires recording the order in court databases, which are open to the public. A record showing that a person had gun rights taken away based on being an “extreme risk” may well haunt an individual for the rest of their life – regardless of rehabilitation – erecting barriers for them when they undergo a background check for employment, housing, etc.
Meanwhile, NAMI outlined its concerns noting, “We recognize that the intent of the initiative is to keep firearms out of the hands of people at significant risk of harm to self or others. We also recognize that 80% of all deaths due to firearms in Washington State are suicides. However we have concerns that the specific identification of mental illness in the bill will pose a significant deterrent to care for the very people who need it most. We are concerned that creating new firearms laws based on mental illness would have the effect of erecting more barriers to treatment, by raising fears that seeking help will result in loss of gun ownership rights. This law would also reinforce false public perceptions about the relationship between mental illness and gun violence. The objective of Initiative 1491 can be accomplished without including specific identification of mental illness in the bill.”
“This is most certainly NAMI Washington’s position,” confirmed Cassandra Ando, NAMI Washington public policy co-chair via e-mail. “Because we are staying neutral on the issue, we may not post it (on the NAMI website) so that we do not appear to be taking a position either for or against the Initiative.”
Liberty Park Press also reached out the ACLU for comment.
As the election draws near and ballots are being mailed, there has been scant press attention to these concerns. I-1491 has not raised the controversy that I-594 did, but considering what the local ACLU and NAMI groups are saying, maybe that could change.