Opponents of nearly any measure to reduce gun violence are quick to assert that the proposal wouldn’t have prevented the most recent tragedy or that it, on its own, wouldn’t have a significant effect.
It’s an argument that’s easy to make against nearly any proposed law, but the arguments ignore the potential for reducing harm, if not eliminating it, even when it’s difficult to predict or measure the effect.
There’s benefit then in considering several actions that were proposed last week by President Barack Obama and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and legislation that is awaiting action as the Legislature begins its session Monday.
Working within the bounds of executive action, Obama last week proposed an expansion of the current background check law to require licenses for those “doing business” selling firearms online and at gun shows and background checks for those purchasing from those dealers. Admittedly, determining who is “doing business” as a firearms dealer could be open to interpretation, but research by gun control advocates claims that 1 in 20 sales on one classified ad website were by unlicensed dealers listing more than 25 firearms for sale. Another group says that 3 percent of listed buyers on another website have criminal records that would bar them from owning a gun.
Obama also called for hiring another 230 examiners to process background checks, decreasing the delay in approving sales but also potentially eliminating errors, like that one that allowed Dylann Roof, who killed nine people at a South Carolina church in June, to pass a check and obtain his weapon despite a drug arrest that should have disqualified him.
The expansion of the background check Obama seeks nationally won’t be as comprehensive as those already passed by voters in Washington state in 2014. The state’s background check expansion applies to all gun sales and transfers, regardless of whether they are sold by those in the business of selling firearms or are individuals.
Gov. Inslee sees opportunity in additional measures, proposing improvements in the information shared among government agencies on the effectiveness of gun safety efforts and the information shared among law enforcement and social service agencies. Following the Marysville Pilchuck High School shooting, which claimed the lives of four students and the young gunman, it was learned that a failure to share information between a tribal court and a federal database allowed the sale to the gunman’s father of the weapon used in the shooting. A domestic violence protection order against the man should have prevented the sale, but there was no simple system that allowed tribal courts to share information with the database. That deficiency was fixed in August.
Inslee also promised a public health campaign on suicide prevention and better screening for depression among adolescents. Of the nearly 33,000 deaths by firearm in 2013, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 21,000 of those were suicides.
With hopes of reducing deaths among adolescents from suicides and accidental shootings, state Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Shoreline, is bringing back legislation that seeks provisions for the safe storage of firearms.
Kagi talked last year with the mother of a teen, who despite being raised among firearms and having received firearms training designed for youths, killed himself with a gun.
Kagi’s bill, waiting for action since 2013, would require that firearms that are accessible to those under 16 be kept in a locked box, gun safe or secured with a trigger lock. Failing to secure firearms around children could result in a charge of reckless endangerment, punishable by up to a year in jail, a $5,000 fine or both. Gun dealers would be required to offer for sale a gun safe or trigger lock to anyone buying a firearm.
Kagi has said previously that the intent is not to punish someone who has lost a child to gun violence — charges would be at the discretion of prosecutors — but to encourage people to secure the firearms in their home.
All the proposals above, particularly Kagi’s bill, have the potential to do a lot of good. Even when it’s difficult to judge their effectiveness beforehand, the potential for lives saved outweighs the relatively mild inconveniences the measures might require.