I am done feeling sad about gun violence. I am ready to get to work. Richard Martinez, whose son was killed in the Isla Vista shooting a few weeks ago, put it best: "I don't want to hear that you're sorry about my son's death... come back to me and tell me you've done something."
Look, it's perfectly normal to feel upset whenever we hear about another tragic shooting. But it's an unimaginable tragedy that we—as a state and a nation—have basically been stuck in a terrible cycle these last few years: Nearly every single day, we wake up to news of a horrible act of gun violence, everyone says we should do something, and absolutely nothing ever changes.
That ends this November.
The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility believes we can no longer wait for our elected officials to act. It is time for the people to stand together and get something done—and we're going to do just that by voting yes on Initiative 594.
Gun violence continues to reach into nearly every corner of Washington State. In just the first seven days of June, we mourned Seattleites killed and injured at Seattle Pacific University, on the streets of the Central District, and in the International District. Sadly, these deaths will not be the last.
Obviously, gun violence is the result of a lot of different societal problems, from poverty to mental health to education—and yes, oftentimes alarming loopholes in our gun laws.
We may not be able to tackle all of these issues at once, but there's one simple thing we can do: reform our gun laws to make sure that everyone who buys a gun passes the same criminal background check.
We don't know at this point where the guns in the recent incidents came from. But we do know that currently anyone—regardless of criminal or mental-health history—can easily buy a gun without a background check by buying at a gun show or from a private sale through the internet or a classified ad.
That's the kind of loophole that basically makes the current law almost meaningless.
Initiative 594 will ensure that all gun sales in Washington State go through the same background-check system, no matter where someone buys a gun or from whom they buy it. Under current Washington law, people who buy guns from a federally licensed dealer—like a sporting goods store or a Walmart—go through a background check to ensure that the purchaser is legally allowed to own a firearm. But private sales, where guns are obtained from an individual at a gun show or over the internet, don't require a background check in our state.
Law-enforcement agencies agree that this loophole promotes illegal gun trafficking and enables individuals with criminal intent to purchase guns easily. No matter what your political views, virtually everyone agrees that these individuals should not have access to firearms. Initiative 594 makes our law consistent by ensuring that these private sales go through the same background check as those at a dealer.
The federal background-check system has blocked more than two million people from getting a gun because the system stopped the sale. Sixteen states and Washington, DC, have background checks on private sales and have seen dramatic reductions in violent gun crimes. These states see 38 percent fewer women killed by intimate partners with handguns, 49 percent fewer suicides with handguns, 39 percent fewer law-enforcement officers killed, and dramatically lower rates of gun crime compared to states, like Washington, that don't perform background checks on private sales.
Background checks make a real, meaningful impact on reducing gun deaths and injuries, and on catching criminals. A background check on a sale from a licensed dealer played an important role in tracking down the killer of Molly Conley last year in Snohomish County. Colorado passed a law very similar to Initiative 594 in 2013, and since then, background checks on private sales have prevented 227 prohibited purchasers from getting a gun, including a convicted murderer.
Background checks are a key part of curbing gun violence, but there is no one solution to a problem this complex. They won't stop all incidents of gun violence, and incidents like Cafe Racer, UC Santa Barbara, and Seattle Pacific University remind us that we must improve our mental-health system. But we also can't let that stop us from doing everything we can to make it more difficult for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun. Initiative 594 will do just that and can prevent a future tragedy.
While most of us are having an honest discussion about how to reduce gun violence and keep guns out of dangerous hands, the gun lobby is busy working to prevent us from making any progress.
Everything you have heard about the gun lobby is true: It is one of the most powerful, well-funded, and sophisticated lobby operations in the country. The gun lobby has worked hard to spread fear, paranoia, and divisiveness meant to cloud the issue and intimidate voters and legislators. And it has worked. Congress has failed to act and so has our state legislature.
That's why we are headed to the ballot box. We believe that once we move the debate from the dark corridors of legislative offices and into the bright light of day, voters will do the right thing and pass Initiative 594.
But it's not going to be easy. The noise and rhetoric is only going to grow louder and more heated over the next five months. The gun lobby will spend millions of dollars to scare and confuse voters in hopes of defeating Initiative 594.
The truth will be the same then as it is today: Initiative 594 applies the same background-check system that works for dealer sales to all gun sales. It makes no changes to our state's hunting or sport shooting laws, and law-abiding citizens will still be able to buy a gun. Initiative 594 reflects the commonsense belief that with the right to bear arms comes responsibilities—and that, as a society, we are responsible for keeping guns out of dangerous hands.
In the wake of recent shootings, we've heard the call to action from local leaders like Mayor Ed Murray and County Executive Dow Constantine, and from survivors of gun violence like Cheryl Stumbo, the citizen-sponsor of 594 and a survivor of the 2006 Jewish Federation shooting. We've also taken to heart the words of Richard Martinez, who asked after his son was killed at UCSB, "When will enough people say, 'Stop this madness'?"
The solution to gun violence and preventing its terrible consequences will ultimately come from people coming together, standing up for what is right, and getting to work. Initiative 594 is an expression of Washington's readiness to get something done. We know that no family should ever have to go through the terrible tragedy of losing a loved one to gun violence, and we know it is within our power to act today to make a difference. I hope you will join us.
Zach Silk runs the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility and manages the campaign to pass Initiative 594.