Gun Battle Plays Out in Washington State Campaign
Policy + Politics

Gun Battle Plays Out in Washington State Campaign

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

A ballot measure to tighten background checks for gun buyers in Washington state, which is reeling from a deadly school shooting last week, was drawing strong support ahead of a Nov. 4 vote, a poll showed on Wednesday.

Washington state voters are deciding on two competing gun legislation measures in next week's election.

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One would require background checks on all gun sales, including at gun shows, online and transfers. The other would prevent the state from imposing more background check requirements unless the federal government does so first.

The vote comes in the shadow of last week's school shooting in Marysville, Washington, in which a teenager used a .40 caliber handgun to shoot five classmates at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. Two 14-year-old girls were killed in addition to the gunman, who took his own life, authorities said.

A KCTS-9 survey taken from Oct. 17 to 24, the day of the shooting, found voter support for the background check measure at 64 percent. The survey found 45 percent of those polled would vote against new background checks.

A separate Oct. 9 survey conducted by independent Washington pollster Stuart Elway found the gun control measure with 60 percent support with its rival at 39 percent.

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Public support for stricter gun control often spikes after a mass shooting, said Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political science professor.

"If you piece together all of the shootings going all the way back to Columbine, nationally we've been seeing more support for background checks and more responsible gun laws," Barreto said.

Pro-gun groups argue that tighter background checks wouldn't have prevented the Marysville tragedy nor impeded the shooter, who at 15 was too young to legally obtain a gun.

"I think it's deceptive to suggest that a law like this is going to prevent something like what happened at Pilchuck high school," said Dave Workman, a spokesman for the measure to block more background checks.

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Gun control advocates say stricter checks would reduce gun violence by making it harder for criminals to obtain firearms.

Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, who both lost first-grade sons in a 2012 shooting rampage in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, came to Seattle to encourage residents to vote for stricter checks. "We know that background checks can save lives," Hockley said. "Just because it won't stop one tragedy doesn't mean it won't stop other tragedies from happening."