Bill and Melinda Gates attend the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 10, 2014 in Sun Valley, Idaho.
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Bill and Melinda Gates give $1M to gun reform initiative

Updated

Two big-name billionaires have hopped on the gun law reform bandwagon.

In an unusual move, Bill and Melinda Gates donated $1 million to the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a reform group attempting to reduce violence in the Evergreen State. The billionaires’ combined contribution was applied directly to Initiative 594, a policy sponsored by the organization that would require criminal background checks on all firearms sales and transfers in Washington — including at gun shows and on the Internet.

“We believe it will be an effective and balanced approach to improving gun safety in our state by closing existing loopholes for background checks,” the couple said in a joint statement obtained by msnbc.

The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, 8/26/14, 10:31 PM ET

Bill Gates vs. the NRA

Bill and Melinda gates have donated $1 million for a gun safety ballot initiative in Washington State. Richard Wolffe and Cliff Schecter join Lawrence to discuss.

The couple typically refrains from involvement with politics, but the Microsoft co-founder provided $500,000, an amount matched by his wife. The couple usually focuses its philanthropy on eliminating poverty and improving health and education in countries around the world.

Their contributions were revealed Monday through the Public Disclosure Commission.

Federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on prospective purchasers and to maintain records of the sales. But unlicensed private sellers — online and at gun shows, for example — are not required to observe the same policies. And about 40% of firearms sold in the country are transferred by such private sellers, according to the U.S. Department of Justice

Early last year, 345,000 Washington residents began pushing for the initiative, known as “I-594,” to appear on a ballot. They will have a chance to vote on the measure during the midterm elections in November.

The Seattle-based alliance, created in January 2013, has raised nearly $6 million, with the help of previous donations from venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, Gates’s fellow Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife, Connie. A rival campaign, Initiative 591, would prevent Washington lawmakers from following legislation that places additional restrictions beyond the national standard for background checks.

The various innovators and business magnates are the most recent individuals to push for stricter gun laws in the country, following a bipartisan bill that failed in the Senate early last year in the months following the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. The measure would have tightened background checks for gun purchases. More recently, though, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bipartisan amendment in May to boost funding for background checks. The Senate will likely consider its own version before conferencing with the House to produce a final piece of legislation later this year.

Other big names have favored the pro-reform gun movement in different areas around the country. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg earlier this year created Everytown for Gun Safety to compete with the National Rifle Association. Bloomberg, by contrast to the Gateses, is an outspoken gun-control advocate who plans to spend $50 million of his own money throughout 2014 to motivate at least one million voters to curb gun violence during elections this year. He also unified the groups he funds, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Related: When Congress won’t act on gun control, individual groups will

Moms Demand Action continues to create campaigns that address the loophole in the system. Earlier this year, members successfully convinced Facebook and Instagram to monitor all sales and trades of firearms that are not subject to background checks. Pro-gun activists responded by pushing their own agenda, staging “open carry” events at various businesses to support their Second Amendment rights.

A huge majority — 92% — of Americans support conducting background checks for all gun purchases, according to a poll released last month. Just 7% of the public disapproves.

Gun Policy, Gun Violence and Washington

Bill and Melinda Gates give $1M to gun reform initiative

Updated