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    Some states may turn to ballot for gun control

    Voter initiatives readied if bills fail

    US Senator Joe Manchin
    Alex Wong/Getty Images
    US Senator Joe Manchin said he will reintroduce a bill to require gun-buyer background checks at shows and online.

    OLYMPIA, Wash. — After struggling to sway both state and federal lawmakers, proponents of expanding background checks for gun sales are now exploring whether they will have more success by taking the issue directly to voters.

    While advocates generally prefer that new gun laws be passed through the legislative process, especially at the national level, they are also concerned about how much sway the National Rifle Association has with lawmakers.

    Washington state Representative Jamie Pedersen, a Democrat who had sponsored unsuccessful legislation on background checks at the state level, said a winning ballot initiative would make a statement with broad implications.


    ‘‘It’s more powerful if the voters do it — as opposed to our doing it,’’ Pedersen said. ‘‘And it would make it easier for the Legislature to do even more.’’

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    On Monday, proponents of universal background checks in Washington state will announce their plan to launch a statewide initiative campaign that would require collecting some 300,000 signatures, according to a person involved in the initiative planning who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to preempt the official announcement.

    The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility has scheduled a fund-raiser in Seattle at the end of next month and hopes to have a campaign budget in the millions of dollars.

    Ballot measures may be an option elsewhere, too. Hildy Saizow, president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, said an initiative is one of the things the group will consider.

    An organizer in Oregon was focused on the Legislature for now but would not rule out a ballot measure in the future if lawmakers fail to pass a proposed bill there.


    While advocates have had recent success on background checks in places like Connecticut and Colorado, they have been thwarted in some other states and in Congress. The US Senate rejected a plan to expand background checks earlier this month, although lawmakers in the chamber are still working to gather more votes.

    One of the architects of national gun-control legislation that failed said Sunday he will bring it back.

    Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said on “Fox News Sunday’’ that he will reintroduce a measure that would require criminal and mental health background checks for gun buyers at shows and online.

    Manchin sponsored a previous version of the measure with Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. He said there was confusion over what was in the bill, and that if lawmakers read the legislation they will support it.

    Brian Malte, director of mobilization at the national nonprofit lobbying group Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said passage through Congress is the ideal in order to have a national solution and so that states with strong gun laws are not undermined by nearby states with weaker standards.


    Still, Malte said, the ballot measures are an option.

    Brian Judy, a lobbyist who represents the NRA in Washington state, did not return calls seeking comment about the new initiative. He has previously said the NRA would likely oppose such an effort, arguing that the recently proposed laws on background checks would largely affect law-abiding citizens instead of the intended targets such as criminals and the mentally ill.

    Gun measures have had mixed results at the ballot. More than 70 percent of Washington state voters rejected a 1997 initiative campaign that would have required handgun owners to pass a safety course. After the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, voters in Colorado and Oregon approved ballot measures the next year to require background checks for buying weapons at gun shows.

    Gun buyers currently must undergo a background check when they purchase a weapon from a federally licensed firearms dealer but can avoid checks through private purchases or at some gun shows.

    Washington state advocates believe polls show the public is sufficiently on the side of expanding background checks further. An independent Elway Poll conducted two months ago found that 79 percent of registered voters in Washington state supported background checks on all gun sales, including private transactions.

    That was not enough to shepherd the bill through the Legislature. Even in the state House, which is controlled by Democrats, backers fell short after an NRA campaign put pressure on some lawmakers.