A concerted effort by lawmakers is needed to address our country’s deadly epidemic of gun violence. Murder won’t be eliminated, but we can reduce the severity of gun violence with common-sense regulations.
Washington state has an opportunity to show leadership on this front. Its gun-ownership rights are secured by our state constitution. It also has a strong congressional delegation with ranking members of the House and Senate.
With mass shootings of children and innocent women and men occurring on a roughly daily basis in America, the question is how quickly stricter but reasonable gun laws can be implemented.
Following the latest massacre, where a gunman with a cache of apparently legal, military-style weapons shot nearly 600 concertgoers in Las Vegas, the Seattle Times editorial board surveyed members of the delegation.
Their messages of support and condolences are appreciated, but we want to know how our elected leaders will address this crisis. We asked each to list three things that government can do to reduce gun violence in America and the chances that their constituents will be killed or injured in a shooting.
All responded except U.S. Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler, R-Vancouver. She’s an ally of the National Rifle Association running for re-election next year. Herrera Beutler is in a tight spot. Conservatives in her district have chided her for being moderate, even before she bravely voted against the GOP’s unconscionable efforts to gut Obamacare.
Stronger gun control will also save lives. But Herrera Beutler’s staff declined to respond to multiple emails, take a call or put her on the line.
Other Washington Republicans representing rural areas responded but offered little to nothing in the way of specifics.
There are glimmers of hope. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Yakima, didn’t suggest any changes to gun laws but signaled that he’s open to consider them.
Washington’s highest-ranking Republican, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, responded promptly but with platitudes. Her Spokane-area district saw the state’s most recent deadly school shooting, on Sept. 13 at Freeman High School. Yet McMorris Rodgers proposed no legislative changes. Asked how to reduce gun violence and increase the safety of constituents, her office noted that she voted last year for mental-health services and that she’s sharing meals with Democrats in an effort to help society come together.
Mental-health programs are important, but that’s a partial response that doesn’t resolve America’s gun problem. Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock apparently showed no previous signs of mental illness. Instead, he demonstrated the insanity of laws allowing civilians to own military-style weapons.
Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Covington, responded only with a prepared statement of concern, from which we extracted what appears to be his suggested changes.
Most Democrats representing Washington had a ready list of suggestions, including restoring the ban on assault rifles.
The suggestions and phone numbers of the state’s congressional delegation are listed below. Let them know which ideas are favored by the people they represent.
Urge them to work together and enact reasonable gun control. They should ban not just “bump stocks,” which increase firing rates, but also high-capacity magazines and tactical rifles.
Stronger laws won’t eliminate gun violence, sadly. But they will prevent or reduce the severity of our next mass shootings.
Our Congress members sound off:
3 steps to reduce gun violence
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D), 202-224-2621
1. Pass comprehensive background checks, which would mandate a complete background check on all sales, including between private parties, at gun shows and for internet sales. This would make sure dangerous individuals cannot exploit loopholes or go to states with lax gun laws to acquire weapons.
2. Ban high-capacity magazines of more than 10 bullets. Higher capacities are not necessary for effective self-defense but make it far easier for shooters looking to inflict mass casualties to do so before they can be stopped.
3. Conduct Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health research to treat gun violence as the public health crisis it is.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D), 202-224-3441
1. Congress should institute comprehensive background checks for all gun purchases, even for private sales.
2. Congress should authorize federal courts to allow police and family members to petition a federal court to prevent firearm access for persons demonstrating mental illness or other behaviors indicating possible harm to themselves or others.
3. Congress should ban the use of modification devices, such as the “bump stock,” that can modify a semi-automatic weapon into a full-automatic weapon.
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D), District 1, 202-225-6311
1. I personally believe assault weapons have no place on our streets and support legislation that would reinstate the 1994 assault-weapons ban and prohibit high-capacity magazines.
2. I also support the bipartisan King-Thompson background-check bill because too many guns today are still sold without a background check, and too many individuals who should be prohibited from having a gun slip through the cracks.
3. We also need to end the ridiculous ban on federal research on gun violence. While there is no one law that will prevent every single instance of senseless violence, we can and must do more to understand and address the root causes of this epidemic.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen (D), District 2, 202-225-2605
1. Banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines above 10 rounds. This would limit the breadth and depth of damage would-be killers can inflict.
2. Lifting the ban on federally funded research into the causes of gun violence. This would provide lawmakers with a better understanding of how to prevent firearm-related homicide and suicide.
3. Strengthening background checks, including by extending the period of time investigators have to complete delayed background checks from three to 14 days. This would enhance law enforcement’s ability to prevent gun violence.
U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R), District 3, 202-225-3536
1. No response
U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R), District 4, 202-225-5816
1. While I am a strong defender of Second Amendment rights, there are limits under current federal law. The findings of the ongoing investigation by law enforcement will determine which federal laws were followed or disregarded. When the facts are known, we will continue this debate without infringing on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.
2. Untreated mental illness can increase the chances of self-harm or violence against others, no matter what means are used. The 21st Century Cures Act is much-needed major mental-health reform legislation I supported that was signed into law and is now being implemented across the country.
3. It is also important that we are enforcing our nation’s current gun laws to prevent the tragic loss of innocent life. There are laws currently in place to keep felons and other dangerous individuals from possessing firearms, and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is used by Federal Firearms Licensees to determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to purchase a firearm.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R), District 5, 202-225-2006
1. Do a better job coming together as a society and creating a more civil dialogue. McMorris Rodgers has been spending time bringing different people together in Spokane to have conversations about how we build strong, peaceful communities. She has teamed with Rep. Debbie Dingle of Michigan to bring together Democratic and Republican Members of Congress to build relationships over shared meals. First and foremost, she believes each one of us needs to take ownership for creating stronger communities.
2. Last year, McMorris Rodgers supported the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, the largest mental-health legislation in decades, providing resources and funding for new programs and initiatives, and increasing collaboration among federal agencies when it comes to mental health.
3. The congresswoman joined members of House Republican Leadership for their weekly news conference and offered remarks on the tragedy in Las Vegas: “Our hearts are breaking, and I think it’s very important that we are reaching out, that we are showing compassion and comfort, that helps people get through it. But we also need to give thought and try to gain understanding from it as we search for what’s next.”
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D), District 6, 202-225-5916
1. Pass previously introduced bipartisan legislation that strengthens the background-check system to cover all commercial firearm sales, including those at gun shows and over the internet.
2. Increase investments in mental-health services to get people needed treatment before they cause harm to others.
3. End a counterproductive and partisan ban on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researching the causes of gun violence.
U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D), District 7, 202-225-3106
1. Overturn the federal prohibition on researching gun violence as a public health crisis — this was pushed through by the NRA and is extremely detrimental to our efforts to show the effects of gun violence and then legislate smart laws, as was done with the issues of car safety and smoking.
2. Increase background checks and close gun-sales loopholes.
3. Prohibit the transfer, importation or possession of magazines that are able to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert (R), District 8, 202-225-7761
1. While we must ensure our current laws are enforced, I believe there is bipartisan support for more comprehensive standards for databases and background checks …
2. … Continuing to strengthen care for individuals suffering from mental illness.
U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D), District 9, 202-225-8901
1. We have to ensure everyone has a background check before purchasing a firearm. I am a co-sponsor of Rep. James Clyburn’s Background Check Completion Act to close the “Charleston Loophole.” Under current law, individuals are allowed to receive a firearm that they have purchased after three days, even if a background check is not completed. This procedural loophole allowed the Charleston shooter to buy the weapon used in the tragic events that took place in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.
2. The assault-weapons ban should be reinstated. More than half of all mass-shooting incidents in the last three decades involved the use of an “assault weapon” in combination with a high-capacity magazine. I strongly support legislation to prohibit the sale, transfer and manufacture of detachable-magazine semi-automatic rifles.
3. A comprehensive approach to combating the epidemic of gun violence must include a focus on mental health. Earlier this year, I voted against House Joint Resolution 40, which rolled back efforts to strengthen the firearm background-check system — blocking information about those who are mentally ill from being added to the database. I strongly support an increased focus on improving both mental-health treatment and the frequency of reporting data to the national background-check system.
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck (D), District 10, 202-225-9740
1. A more comprehensive federal background-check system.
2. Close the gun-show loophole.
3. Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
— Compiled by the Seattle Times editorial board