Washington state voters approve measure to expand gun background checks
Man holding a handgun (Shutterstock.com)

Legislation to expand background checks for gun buyers in Washington state passed overwhelmingly, election results showed on Wednesday, making the state the first in the country to close the so-called gun-show loophole through popular vote.

Initiative 594, which requires background checks for all gun purchases in Washington state, whether at gun shows, online or through transfers, was voted into law with about 60 percent support, according to election results.

The initiative was opposed by gun rights advocates who championed a competing measure that would have barred the state from enacting tighter background check requirements than in place at the federal level.

Opinion polls had consistently shown the winning measure was popular among voters. It gained more attention last month after a school shooting in Marysville, 35 miles north of Seattle, in which three girls and a student gunman were killed. Two boys were badly wounded.

Washington state becomes the seventh state, plus the District of Columbia, to require universal background checks for gun buyers, though it is the first state to pass such legislation through a statewide popular vote.

"Washington has made a significant commitment to gun safety for all," Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, a proponent of the measure, said after results were released.

"As the first state to pass this by popular vote, Washington has sent a message of hope to other states that progress is possible," he said.

The competing ballot measure, Initiative 591, was rejected by about 54 percent of voters.

Gun control advocates maintain that tightened background checks reduces gun violence, including the number of women killed in domestic violence situations and the number of police officers shot while on duty.

Pro-gun groups said increased background checks could infringe on Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms and allows for state intrusion into temporary firearm loans to friends and family.

Gun groups also argued that universal background checks at the state level are not consistent with federal law, with Congress blocking legislation to expand background checks following the 2012 shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school.

Since the tragedy, in which 20 children and six adults were killed, several states have moved to tighten gun control measures and background checks at the local level.

Washington, D.C., California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York and Rhode Island require universal background checks.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Eric Beech)