Commentary: Citizens must take the lead on curbing gun violence

Politicians will just grandstand and obstruct, so it’s up to us to force them to protect students.

By The News Tribune Editorial Board

Do something. Do anything. Action, not words. Action, not just thoughts and prayers.

The pleas of students, families and school-safety advocates, largely unanswered after the slaughter of 17 people at a Florida high school in February, were infused with fresh urgency after 10 more were slain May 18 at Santa Fe High School in Texas.

We’re struck by this sobering fact: As of Monday, the U.S. had seen twice as many students killed in school shootings this year (26) as service members killed in combat zones (13).

This is America’s new guerrilla war, and the dreadful business of memorializing those left as ambush casualties in classrooms and school hallways takes center stage this week; funerals are being held for eight fallen students and two teachers in Santa Fe.

So it’s natural that a clarion call for action would swell again from coast to coast — including in Washington state, where within hours of the Texas massacre, an influential lawmaker asked for a special session in Olympia.

“No law or legislative action will alone change human hearts and altogether stop violence,” Sen. John Braun said in a statement. “But the Legislature can take steps to reduce the risk of deadly school violence, which often stems from mental illness.”

The Centralia Republican exhorted Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session, hoping the Legislature would adopt measures to protect Washington’s 1.1 million public school students before they return to class next fall.

We appreciate Braun’s earnestness and expect the idea will find fans among the “do something, do anything” crowd. But a special session at the height of an election year would very likely be an exercise in futility, laced with lots of grandstanding. In the end, we predict it would do little but spotlight the Legislature’s failure to act on key gun-safety bills in the 2018 regular session.

The governor’s office is appropriately skeptical about adding to the hot air by convening a rare summer parley at the state Capitol. A spokeswoman for Inslee was spot on when she told TNT reporter Walker Orenstein: “The obstacle to reducing gun violence has not been too few days in session.”

A much more promising approach is to let Washington voters carry the water on their broad shoulders, as they’ve done in the past. Initiative 1639 would raise the age to buy semi-automatic firearms from 18 to 21, create a background check system for assault weapons, require completion of a gun safety course and establish standards for secure gun storage.

Backers of I-1639 have six weeks left to collect a total of 260,000 signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign got a boost last week when billionaire Seahawks owner Paul Allen and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer said they would contribute $1 million apiece.

For those who prefer legislators be involved, a bipartisan state task force is examining mass shootings and is due to present a report in December. That group should be given time to complete its work.

We absolutely believe school safety is a top priority and that firearms regulations, security improvements and mental health reforms must be part of any solution. But a special legislative session would waste everyone’s time without solid proposals and a willingness to compromise, and could distract from the initiative campaign.

For now, every Washingtonian’s challenge to “do something” and “take action” should be issued while looking squarely in the mirror.

Ask tough questions of legislative and congressional candidates you meet this summer. Vote for the ones you’re convinced won’t pussyfoot on protecting students. And support I-1639, first in the signature phase and then (fingers crossed) when it reaches the ballot.

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