With Initiative 594, which would extend rules for firearm background checks in the state, passing as of Friday with 59 percent approval, it’s clear that there is public support, east and west of the Cascades, for reasonable legislation regarding guns.
Voters rejected the fear-driven claims of opponents that I-594 would criminalize law-abiding gun owners and accepted that background checks for all private sales and transfers added protections for the public without resulting in an undue burden for gun owners.
Some of that same public support would be helpful as Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Shoreline, submits for a second time firearms safety legislation when the Legislature convenes in January. The 32nd District representative is preparing a bill that would require that firearms be safely stored where children are present, providing for a charge of reckless endangerment if an unsupervised child under 16 is allowed and gains access to a loaded unsecured weapon.
The intent, Kagi said, is not to go after gun owners after a tragedy that involves a child and a gun. She intends a provision that would give prosecuting attorneys discretion in deciding whether charges are appropriate in specific cases. Instead, the bill would seek to further inform and educate gun owners about their responsibilities. For instance, it would require gun shops to post a sign stating: “It is unlawful to store or leave an unsecured, loaded firearm where a child can and does obtain possession.”
Twenty-eight states, including Texas, have similar laws on the books, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The Law Center’s 2014 report, “Regulating Guns in America,” cited two studies worth attention:
A study of 12 states between 1990 and 1994 with child access prevention laws in effect for at least a year, found a 23 percent reduction in unintentional deaths of children under 15.
A 2004 study found such laws resulted in an 8.3 percent decrease in firearms suicides of youths between 14 and 17 years of age.
We can’t know with any certainty, had Kagi’s bill passed last session, if it would have made a difference on Oct. 24 at Marysville Pilchuck High School. But we can know that a firearm that is kept in a gun safe or secured with a trigger lock is almost certainly not going to find its way into the hands of a child.
Last year, the bruising fight over background check legislation — which failed in the Legislature and necessitated the citizens’ initiative — created a unfriendly environment for Kagi’s bill, and a hearing was never scheduled.
Kagi said she has heard from gun owners who are supportive of her bill, gun owners she hopes will testify on its behalf.
Regardless of Democratic or Republican control of the House and Senate, the bill deserves the Legislature’s full attention and consideration. Washington state’s residents have demonstrated their desire for reasonable measures that address gun violence, and the Legislature can move forward with confidence in that support.