With the Sandy Hook massacre adding unprecedented impetus for gun control nationwide, and local venture capitalist Nick Hanauer bankrolling a new group devoted to the movement, the lobbying around firearms in Olympia is more intense than it's been in years. Still, Ralph Fascitelli, board president of the veteran gun control group Washington CeaseFire, isn't optimistic, "The problem is going to be the Senate," he says, noting the dominance of Republicans resistant to gun control legislation.
That's doesn't mean Fascitelli is giving up. Far from it. "We will get a win this year," he says. Just maybe not in Olympia. "I think we may have to quickly shift to Plan B."And what is Plan B? Fascitelli is cagey, saying he and the many people he's been meeting with of late are not ready to make an announcement. But he offers some broad hints. For starters, he refers to a recent poll CeaseFire did among 600 state voters. Eighty-seven percent indicated support for universal background checks before gun purchases. "So that's exciting," Fascitelli says.
And that's when he says this: "The other efforts passed nationwide by initiative--marijuana, death with dignity, gay marriage--their poll numbers were only in the mid-50s."
It's pretty clear Plan B is a gun control initiative Fascitelli and his allies are mulling over. When asked whether he plans to talk to someone with initiative experience, like Alison Holcomb, former campaign manager of successful marijuana legalization Initiative-502 (who, incidentally, is interested in moving onto other issues and running for office), he says: "How do you know I haven't already?"
"The tail winds of Sandy Hook are only going to last so long," Fascitelli says, explaining why he's not going to wait for another legislative session to roll around.
Fascitelli has been working this issue since 1999, the year of another massacre, at Columbine High School. An advertising executive, he then had a son in high school and a daughter in junior high. He joined CeaseFire and, he says, became good friends with Tom Wales, the federal prosecutor who was then a driving force behind the local gun control movement. When Wales was slain in 2001, Fascitelli stepped up into a more prominent role.
In all that time, he says he's never seen the kind of "citizen energy" behind gun control that he's seeing now. In the last week, he says, "I've had eight different meetings with people interested in the cause," including religious and civic leaders, he says. One meeting late last week broke up after 10 p.m.
Whether all that energy can translate into a victory at the polls is the question. It's worth noting that this state has seen a gun control initiative before. In 1997, Wales championed an initiative that would have required trigger locks. Voters rejected it. That was before Columbine, though, not to mention Sandy Hook. Fascitelli, at least, is sounding more confident than he has in a long time.