On Wednesday, a 19-year-old shooter armed with a semiautomatic rifle took the lives of 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — most of them children.
Wednesday also was the deadline in our state’s Capitol to advance bills from their house of origin.
The deadline came and went, taking with it the chances our state might pass some meaningful gun legislation. We’re talking things like a ban on assault weapons, enhanced background checks for gun buyers, requiring an individual to be 21 before buying a military-style assault weapon.
There are a few words for inaction like this, but I’ll stop with one I can print: cowardly.
Even with a Democratic majority in the state Legislature, common-sense gun bills couldn’t gather enough support. Republicans stood in strong opposition, as they typically do, while centrist Dems shirked and helped to seal their fate.
This is what our country does. It’s what we’ve practiced. Thoughts, prayers and little political action — in Washington D.C., and to a disappointing extent, Olympia, too.
Understandably, the gun control debate largely takes place on the national stage. It’s an issue that impacts the entire country — from Orlando to Newtown to Las Vegas. Looking to our elected representatives in Washington D.C., when faced with a nationwide crisis, is appropriate.
Even so, we shouldn’t allow our state lawmakers off the hook. They have the power to pass meaningful gun legislation, but they rarely do.
Too often Republicans deflect the issue as a matter of mental health, despite the fact that the state’s mental health system and Western State Hospital — even with ongoing efforts to improve it — continue to stumble. If mental health is the key, lawmakers clearly haven’t displayed the gumption to address it either. It’s time to call this for what it is: a smokescreen.
Meanwhile, for the Democrats in control, this year’s short session has produced some small gun-safety successes. The state Senate passed a ban on “bump stocks” and a bill preventing people with a harassment conviction from having guns. The House recently signed off on a bill that put new restrictions on concealed carry permits. (Whether these will eventually become law remains to be seen.)
Still, the fact remains that the only gun legislation proposed this session with any real teeth was left by the wayside Wednesday.
“When you look at the history of gun-safety measures, it’s been very bleak in legislative bodies,” Gov. Jay Inslee acknowledged in an interview with The News Tribune and The Olympian this week.
During a meek and telling Thursday morning press conference — at least as it related to gun policy — State Sen. Andy Billig, a Spokane Democrat, echoed the sentiment.
“It’s difficult to move gun-safety legislation through the legislature in Washington, as it is in many legislatures and the United States Congress,” Billig said.
It certainly is.
Perhaps the most glaring display of gun-policy ineptitude came in the form of the consolation suggestions offered by those who have largely failed, as elected officials, to do anything of substance.
Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, called for citizens to utilize the initiative process to help enact gun policies.
That remains a possibility, perhaps an even realistic one. Voters overwhelmingly have approved two gun-related initiatives in recent years — expanding background checks and helping to keep guns out of the hands of individuals deemed a danger to themselves or others.
At the same time, the support voters have shown for sensible gun-safety measures clearly indicates this is an issue our elected officials should have the guts to take on. The fact that Democratic lawmakers, even with a majority, can’t make it happen is an indictment of them, while the suggestion that voters should once again take up the cause on their own is simply offensive.
During the same press conference, Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, urged lawmakers to look at issues related to gun safety from “many different angles.” She pointed to a need for training and support in local schools, along with efforts to foster “social and emotional learning.”
Again, these are ideas worth pursuing. They might well be part of the answer. But when asked what concrete steps have been taken, or are underway, Stonier and her colleagues struggled to answer.
“I think we have a lot to do in that area,” Stonier said.
That’s true. Maybe, if we’re lucky, there’s still time to accomplish some of it this session.
Unfortunately, for Washington, significant and meaningful gun safety legislation will likely have to wait.