A deal in the U.S. Senate to strengthen gun laws will not have a huge impact in the state of Washington. Many proposals in the tentative legislation have already been enacted in our state, which has demonstrated there is room for reforms that balance individual rights with public safety.
The agreement has practical implications for much of the nation, and it has symbolic importance as a bipartisan attempt to reduce the prevalence of mass shootings in the United States. But it should be viewed as one step toward reducing gun violence, not the final destination.
As Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said: “This framework represents progress — and contains real measures that can help save lives. It’s not everything we need to end gun violence, so I will continue to fight and press for commonsense gun safety reforms like universal background checks and an assault weapons ban.”
Enhanced background checks for gun purchases and a ban on assault weapons — such a ban was in place from 1994 to 2004 — are supported by a wide swath of the public. But getting the Senate to follow the will of the American people has been difficult.
Instead, senators have agreed on various other measures. The framework includes funding for states to implement red-flag laws, allowing law enforcement to remove weapons from those deemed by a judge to pose a danger. It also would restrict gun purchases for people convicted of abuse against a dating partner; enhance background checks for gun buyers under 21; and clarify laws regarding who needs to register as a licensed gun dealer and, therefore, conduct background checks on potential customers.
Washington already has enacted similar laws. In 2014, for example, voters approved Initiative 594, extending background checks to private sales and the transfer of weapons. In 2016, the state adopted a red-flag law that allows law enforcement or family members to petition a Superior Court judge for an extreme risk protection order prohibiting gun possession.
Gun-rights advocates argue that such decisions should be up to individual states. The problem, obviously, is that guns don’t recognize state lines; a firearm that is illegal to purchase in Washington could be bought in another state and transported here. Some uniformity in gun laws is necessary.
The proposed legislation also includes funding to bolster mental health care and school safety.
These are steps that should be taken with or without the impetus of a spate of mass shootings. But they are largely an attempt to deflect attention from the most prominent threats — glorification of gun culture and lax gun laws. The United States has an estimated 400 million citizen-owned firearms, and it is the only developed nation where spree killings are a common occurrence. Other nations have mental illness and video games that depict violence, yet they manage to avoid the scourge of daily mass shootings.
In a timely occurrence as questions about gun rights are prominent, additional gun restrictions will go into effect in Washington next month. The state will limit high-capacity ammunition magazines and will impose new restrictions on unregulated firearms, known as “ghost guns.”
None of these measures alone will prevent gun violence or prevent mass shootings. But they are reasonable steps to reduce the opportunities for would-be shooters to inflict carnage.
U.S. senators should follow our state’s lead and adopt their proposed measures. And then they should go back to work and ask what else they can do to protect the American public.