Rejecting any proposed solution to a problem because it wouldn’t work in one or more hypothetical situations or doesn’t resolve all issues dooms us to inaction. And potentially more bloodshed.
No one action — or legislative proposal, in this case — is a guarantee that we can prevent the next massacre in Parkland, Florida, or Mukilteo or Marysville.
But the state Legislature — especially in the apparent absence of will in Congress even when facing students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — does have a range of legislation that it can pass before it adjourns next month. And each could have an effect in reducing the threat our children and each of us face from the illegal use of firearms.
You don’t have to look far to find examples where past action has resulted in its intended effect.
Just last year, the Legislature put some needed enforcement behind I-594, the citizen initiative from 2014 that expanded background checks in Washington state to include private sales, guns shows and online sales of firearms. House Bill 1501, sponsored by Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, who is a sergeant with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, requires firearm dealers to report to the the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs all instances when an application to purchase or transfer a firearm has been denied, such as because of a failed background check. It also requires the State Patrol to keep a database of reported denials, investigate those reports and refer cases to law enforcement. It also established a statewide automated system that notifies those who register with it, especially victims of domestic violence, when the subject of a restraining order or other court order has attempted and been denied the purchase of a firearm.
Between taking effect in late July and mid-December, WASPC reported the denial of 1,231 applications to purchase or transfer a firearm; 152 of those denials were referred to law enforcement for further investigation and possible charges. The law is working as intended to deny firearms to those who do not pass background checks and is alerting law enforcement — and the victims of domestic violence — when a prohibited individual attempts to obtain a firearm.
At least one major piece of legislation — a ban on so-called “assault weapons” that was sought by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and others following the shooting deaths of three Kamiak High School graduates at a Mukilteo party in 2016 — is not likely to advance in the Legislature this year, despite Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
But other bills are advancing and, like House Bill 1501, offer their own protections and warrant passage and a signature from the governor. Among them:
Senate Bill 5992 would essentially outlaw so-called “bump-stocks,” the devices that can be attached to semi-automatic firearms that increases the firing rate of the weapon to that of an automatic firearm or “machine gun,” which are prohibited by federal and state law. The bill has passed the Senate and House but has been returned to the Senate for its approval of a House amendment.
Opponents of the legislation are likely correct that the outcome of law would be minimal, but the fact that the devices effectively turn legal weapons into illegal weapons is reason enough to ban them and increase the penalties for their use.
Senate Bill 5553 would create a process to allow an individual to voluntarily and temporarily waive their right to own or purchase a firearm and adds that person’s name to a registry that would deny purchase of firearms. The bill includes a process to revoke the waiver. It has passed the Senate and is expected to get a vote on the House floor.
The legislation will provide a measure of protection to those in crisis and struggling with thoughts of suicide, in particular veterans who are dealing with post traumatic stress.
Senate Bill 6298 would close a loophole that omitted harassment to the list of domestic violence misdemeanor convictions that prohibit the possession of a firearm. It has passed the Senate and is in a House committee.
Harassment, for purposes of the bill, includes threats of injury, physical damage to a person’s property, physically confining someone or any other malicious act intended to harm a threatened person. The types of actions that would be used to grant a domestic violence protection order should also be grounds for denying possession of a firearm.
Senate Bill 5444 would close another loophole that has allowed so-called assault weapons to escape the same state and federal background check requirements that apply to handguns and would prohibit their sale to those under the age of 21. The bill technically did not advance past an earlier deadline for legislation but could still be revived.
Had similar legislation been in place two years ago, Allen Ivanov, then 19, would have been frustrated in his attempt to purchase the AR-15-style rifle from a local dealer, the weapon that he used to gun down a former girlfriend and two others at a Mukilteo home in July 2016. And in his failed attempt, law enforcement might have been alerted to a potentially dangerous individual.
None of the above represent a threat to Second Amendment rights. None will deny firearm ownership to those who have a lawful right to own a firearm. And while, no single piece of legislation can deliver broad guarantees that will prevent the next mass shooting, reasonable moves to close loopholes and adopt other rational changes to laws will save lives.