A day after President Barack Obama said he would take executive action to close background check loopholes, Washington Governor Jay Inslee has issued a new executive order outlining next steps he wants the state to take in curbing gun violence.
In case you somehow need more convincing that something should be done about gun violence, here are a few of the whereas statements from Inslee's order:
• Firearm deaths now exceed motor vehicle crash deaths
• Suicides account for nearly 80 percent of all firearm deaths
• Domestic violence homicide perpetrators use firearms more often than all other methods combined, and over half of these perpetrators were legally prohibited from owning firearms at the time the homicide occurred
On the whole, the order doesn't do much immediately. It's not accompanied by any new funding for mental health care or gun violence prevention. It doesn't create new types of background checks or new restrictions on gun sales. It doesn't, for example, restrict the number of guns that can be purchased at once, impose a waiting period on gun purchases, or lift the state ban that prevents local governments in Washington from imposing their own gun control measures. (More on what Washington does and doesn't do here.)
Instead, Inslee's order is focused on data collection and what the governor calls a "public health approach" to gun violence.
The order basically lays out a few goals toward that end:
1) Improve the way the state gathers data about gun violence
2) Figure out whether state agencies are effectively enforcing Washington's expanded background check law, approved in 2014
3) Create a "suicide prevention plan." That plan includes public suicide prevention campaigns, assessing the availability of depression screenings for people on Medicaid, and studying how much access people with mental illness have to guns.
These are all important things, if a little abstract. State agencies will be required to report back to the governor with their findings and policy recommendations by October of this year. Then, if needed fixes are identified, we could see actual legislation.
Renée Hopkins, director of the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which campaigned for the 2014 background check law, said in a statement today that these efforts will "give us a much clearer understanding of the scope of the crisis in Washington state."
Perhaps the one that warrants the closest watch as state agencies set out to follow the governor's orders is the piece about enforcement of background checks.
The 2014 voter-approved law says background checks have to happen on almost all gun sales, including between private citizens. However, it's unclear how well that law is being enforced. KING 5 reported yesterday that while some research shows 40 percent of gun sales nationwide are between private citizens, only 2 percent of background checks in Washington state last year were from "private party" sales. In other words, there may be a bunch of individuals selling and buying guns and not undergoing background checks.
In the order, Inslee directs state offices like the Office of Financial Management to analyze information sharing between courts, law enforcement, and state departments "to determine where we can build on the effectiveness of our system for background checks."
Again, it's a good step, but an early one. Once the analyses are done and the reports created, will our gridlocked state legislature have the political will to follow through? If not, will our governor be able or willing to do as the president has done and go it alone?