The Surgeon General’s Warning on a pack of cigarettes. Washington ballot Initiative 1639 would require something similar for guns. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via Wikimedia Commons)

The Surgeon General’s Warning on a pack of cigarettes. Washington ballot Initiative 1639 would require something similar for guns. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via Wikimedia Commons)

Does Washington need a ‘surgeon general’s warning’ for guns?

Initiative 1639 would require something similar on paperwork for firearms purchases.

OLYMPIA — Back in 1965, with mounting evidence of the ill effects of smoking, Congress decided every pack of cigarettes should come with a few words of caution.

Thus was born the first Surgeon General’s Warning.

Its effectiveness in coaxing a smoker to quit or convince someone not to start is considered minimal these days. But those few words — enshrined in law — are a signature and abiding element of a multifaceted and multimillion-dollar campaign against the use of tobacco products.

Now a similar approach toward guns might be on the horizon in this country — and in front of Washington voters this fall.

Initiative 1639, which would impose new restrictions on gun owners and buyers, is awaiting certification by the Secretary of State for the Nov. 6 ballot.

Most of the attention is on its ban on sales of semiautomatic rifles to anyone younger than 21 and a requirement for background checks on buyers. It also requires owners to lock up their firearms or potentially face criminal charges if one of them is used to injure or kill someone.

There’s also a provision, in a vein similar to the Surgeon General’s Warning, to alert would-be buyers of dangers associated with firearms.

It calls for adding the following language to the application form that buyers must complete and sign at the time of purchase:

CAUTION: The presence of a firearm in the home has been associated with an increased risk of death to self and others, including an increased risk of suicide, death during domestic violence incidents, and unintentional deaths to children and others.

Drafters of I-1639 snared the verbiage from a law on the books in New York City. They want to make Washington the first place where it is employed statewide.

“This was really a common-sense approach for us,” said Renee Hopkins, chief executive officer of the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which is spearheading the ballot measure.

They hope that buyers, after reading the words, will be inclined to take steps to ensure their new weapon is locked up at home, she said.

“We believe most gun owners are responsible and want to do what is needed to keep their family safe,” she said. “This language is about ensuring they know and understand that having a gun in the home increases the risks.”

The purpose is not to deter anyone from making a purchase.

“It is about how you deal with firearms once you own them,” she said.

Certainly more than words on an application would be needed to change a buyer’s mind at the checkout counter. Adding a photo from a crime scene or a mass shooting to the paperwork might get them to pause.

That’s not the vision of those behind this year’s initiative, Hopkins said.

“Our intent is to be sure people are well-informed when they purchase a firearm,” she said. “It is a really modest approach.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Counting COVID deaths isn’t as simple as you might think

State relies on results of tests and death certificates in calculating the daily toll of the disease.

The town the virus seemed to miss: No cases counted in Index

Some in the town of 175 fear outsiders could bring in the virus. Others just want things to get back to normal.

Stillaguamish Tribe gives $1M to food banks, fire services

“I had to do a double take,” said the director of the Stanwood Camano Food Bank, which received $300,000.

Island County gets go-ahead for Phase 2 of reopening economy

People can gather in groups five or fewer. Some businesses can open, if they follow guidelines.

Your backyard bonfire could put those with COVID-19 at risk

New research connects long-term exposure to air pollution with higher fatality rates from the coronavirus.

Everett Farmers Market welcomes back walkers

Social distancing will be key to keeping pedestrians safe at city market.

‘Alarming’ number of motorcycle fatalities to start the year

Twenty-five motorcyclists have died so far this year throughout Washington state.

Anna Rohrbough
Help wanted: Mukilteo City Council has seat to fill

You can fill the vacancy for Anna Rohrbough’s sudden departure. Pay is $500 a month.

Vandalism or art? Graffiti rocks at Howarth Park

It’s against the law to deface public property with spray cans, no matter how artful.

Most Read