When the campaign manager for Washington’s gun background-check initiative took the stage at a “strategy summit” this week, he asked everyone to close their eyes and recall the moment they heard about the shooting in Newtown, Conn., last Dec. 14.
“The first thing you probably felt was some mix of horror, then anger, outrage, and then maybe a little bit of horror again,” Zach Silk said. “And if you’re like me, you also felt like somebody needed to do something.”
The moment of reflection for the 20 children and six adults shot to death at an elementary school that day illustrated the origins of this latest gun debate — and the passions behind the looming fight.
As America marks the Newtown anniversary Saturday, gun-control and gun-rights advocates are gearing up for the most intense battle here in more than a decade. And the sponsors of the dueling 2014 state initiatives are both using the day to highlight their cause.
Supporters of Initiative 594, which would extend background-check requirements to private gun transfers, will host candlelight vigils Saturday in Seattle and Olympia to remember the Newtown victims and call for action.
Supporters of Initiative 591, which would prevent the adoption of state background-check laws stricter than the federal standard, will mark “Guns Save Lives Day” at gun shows and ranges Sunday, reiterating the self-protection benefits of carrying.
“The other side is using the occasion to push their agenda, and we’re not going to let them talk about it in a vacuum. There is another side, a good side, to guns,” said Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, before preparing for a Fox News interview — his 36th anniversary-themed interview of the week, he said.
Gottlieb said he feels for all victims of violence but reiterated that guns also save lives when used properly.
The opposing events, whose themes echo messages in national TV and radio advertisements, come as sponsors of the initiatives have three weeks to file final signatures.
About 250,000 valid signatures are required by Jan. 3 to put the issue before lawmakers, and if they don’t act, to voters.
Supporters of I-591 have already turned in some 340,000 signatures, while an I-594 spokesman said the measure has collected more than 325,000.
I-591 has raised around $700,000, while I-594 has collected more than $1.25 million, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
The key to success, both sides say, will be energizing core supporters and turning out voters.
That’s where this week’s events come in.
The strategy summit at Seattle Center aimed to train about 100 volunteers and staffers on event planning, social media, grass-roots lobbying, coalition building and dealing with the media.
The national Center for American Progress Action Fund has held similar training sessions with gun-control advocates in Georgia, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. But in Washington, which is likely to have the highest-profile gun initiatives in the country next year, organizers timed the event around Newtown’s anniversary.
“Newtown was a big moment for the gun-violence movement,” said spokeswoman Allison Zelman, noting the tragedy spawned the I-594 sponsor Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility and the national Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
The latter group is taking the lead Saturday, preparing for dozens to attend the vigils at Seattle’s First United Methodist Church and at the Capitol Rotunda in Olympia.
The theme: “No More Silence.”
“We’re asking people to have this be a call to action, a call to find a solution, and to learn how to speak up,” said Kate Beck, head of the group’s Washington state chapter. “We as mothers have had enough moments of silence.”
Moms Demand Action is also co-sponsoring a national TV ad showing a clock ticking as an elementary-school classroom observes a minute of silence for Newtown, and a suspicious person carrying a duffel bag enters the school.
A spokeswoman said she did not know the size of the ad buy.
Gun-rights supporters said they aren’t particularly impressed by the attempts by the other side to capitalize on Newtown’s anniversary.
Of the national ad, the Second Amendment Foundation’s Gottlieb said, “I sat there watching, and it was like, OK, a clock is still ticking, when’s this going to be over?”
The foundation, based in Bellevue, is running $700,000 in national radio and TV ads of its own. The ads claim guns save more than 2 million lives a year and ask people to call a hotline to vote on whether guns save lives or do more harm than good.
About 46,000 people already have called, Gottlieb said.
Hundreds of thousands are expected to participate in “Guns Save Lives Day” nationwide, he said.
The event was originally scheduled for Saturday but was moved to Sunday after the timing was criticized as disrespectful.
The website encourages participants to visit a gun range or attend a gun show, “great places to meet like-minded law-abiding citizens and discuss common concerns,” and take part in a little Christmas shopping.
In this state, the main event will take place at the Washington Arms Collectors monthly gun show in Puyallup.
Gottlieb said organizers will be passing out stickers with a big red heart and the words “GUNS SAVE LIVES.”
“And of course,” Gottlieb said, “people will be signing petitions.”