Undoubtedly, the United States has a problem with gun violence. And while Washington state is not immune from this disease, not all proposed cures fall under the category of common-sense gun laws.
Because of that, The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a “no” vote on Initiative 1639, a sweeping measure that would dictate numerous changes to state law. As always, this is merely a recommendation, and we hope the initiative leads to continued debate on the pressing issue. This nation desperately needs to recalculate a gun culture that leads to more than 30,000 firearm fatalities each year.
Gun-rights activists often attempt to alter the discussion, pointing fingers at factors ranging from mental health care to video games. But other nations have similar issues without having them result in frequent mass shootings. The fact is that the United States has about as many civilian-owned guns as it does people, and this nation has a far higher rate of gun violence than any other developed country. It is absurd to suggest that no correlation exists.
That being said, Initiative 1639 is problematic, including what could be a murky definition of “semiautomatic assault rifle.” The text of the initiative says that means: “any rifle which utilizes a portion of the energy of a firing cartridge to extract the fired cartridge case and chamber the next round, and which requires a separate pull of the trigger to fire each cartridge.” It does not include “any firearm that has been made permanently inoperable, or any firearm that is manually operated by bolt, pump, lever, or slide action.” Critics of the initiative say the definition includes many weapons that are used for hunting or recreational shooting.
Another shortcoming of I-1639 involves firearm storage requirements. As Ballotpedia.org explains: “a person who left a firearm in a place where a prohibited person (someone who is prohibited from firearm possession under state or federal law) could potentially gain access to the firearm would be guilty of community endangerment, a class C felony, if a prohibited person gained access to the firearm.” We strongly encourage gun owners to use appropriate storage methods, but this mandate would be difficult to enforce and would inhibit the ability of homeowners to use their weapons in self-defense.
Some voters might favor a few provisions of Initiative 1639 but find fault with others. Any measure that includes multiple mandates is unlikely to be perfect in the minds of most voters, and the initiative does have several items worthy of support.
The measure deals with background checks for the sale of semiautomatic assault rifles and would increase the age for purchasing a pistol or semiautomatic assault rifle from 18 to 21. These fall under the realm of common-sense controls, despite opposition from some quarters. If residents of this state have deemed that 20 is too young to purchase alcohol or marijuana, that barrier certainly should exist for firearms. The measure also requires a waiting period of 10 business days for delivery of a semiautomatic assault rifle, which is perfectly reasonable.
In truth, Congress should re-enact a national ban on the manufacture of assault weapons and “large capacity” magazines, which was signed in 1994 but allowed to sunset after 10 years. Gun control measures in this state are only as effective as those of our neighbors.
In the meantime, Washington should, indeed, pursue sensible efforts to reduce gun violence. Initiative 1639 does not quite meet that definition; The Columbian recommends a vote against the measure.