Quit waiting for gun safety; vote ‘yes’ on Washington Initiative 1639

The TNT Editorial Board urges voters to say yes to gun reform Initiative 1639.
The TNT Editorial Board urges voters to say yes to gun reform Initiative 1639. File photo

“Common sense gun reform” is a cry that ricochets throughout the U.S. whenever a mass shooting occurs. But the pattern following gun violence is all-too predictable: Politicians scurry up to podiums to lift prayers and fast promises, then bide their time until public fervor fades.

Well, Washington’s fervor has not faded. That’s why the Alliance for Gun Responsibility collected more than 300,000 signatures to certify Initiative 1639, a sweeping gun-safety measure that could bypass years of federal and state legislative gridlock.

Voters may recognize the organization’s name from two previous Washington ballot initiatives; 2015’s measure for increased background checks and 2016’s push for extreme-risk protection orders.

Both were successful. I-1639 would establish tougher background screenings, increase the purchasing age on assault-style weapons from 18 to 21 and mandate safe-storage precautions.

Our governments already expect training and a level of proficiency before issuing a license to drive a car, operate a boat, cut hair, operate heavy machinery and handle food. Requiring a firearm safety class before the purchase of a gun that can shoot as many as 120 rounds per minute isn’t outside the realm of common sense.

Granted, not all “assault weapons” are automatic military-grade weapons; some low-ammunition-capacity hunting rifles fall in the same category. Voters must ask themselves if sacrificing some convenience for increased public safety is worth the exchange.

We believe it is, and also contend that a 10-day waiting period for the delivery of a semiautomatic weapon, another provision of the measure, is not overly burdensome.

I-1639 also calls for sensible regulatory consistency by raising the legal age for purchasing this type of weapon to 21, the same as a handgun.

Age barriers exist for a reason. The 19-year-old Parkland, Florida school shooter purchased an AR-15 legally. According to an FBI report, 18 to 20-year-olds commit gun homicides at a rate nearly four times higher than adults 21 and older.

Yes, 18-year-olds can vote and serve in the military, but they can’t walk into a store and purchase alcohol or marijuana. Those substances require a level of maturity not found in everyone that age. The same logic applies to another potentially harmful commodity: guns.

The most problematic provision of I-1639 for many opponents is the requirement that firearms be stored and locked in a gun safe, cabinet or case. This mandate could potentially impede access for self-defense, and would be difficult to enforce. If a prohibited person gains access to a firearm, the owner could be subject to a misdemeanor or class C felony.

But holding gun owners accountable for their property falling into the wrong hands is not incongruous with other laws. In Washington, for instance, it’s illegal to leave your car unattended with the engine idling. Locked guns reduce suicides and accidental shootings and prevent stolen guns from entering the black market.

I-1639 also institutes a $25 firearm purchasing fee, which is not prohibitive, and would pay for additional background checks and improve access to needed mental health treatment.

The National Rifle Association has tried to shoot down I-1637 from the moment it was filed – no surprise there. In recent years, the NRA spent more on state elections in Washington than any other state.

But the constitutional right to bear arms and common-sense gun reform aren’t mutually exclusive; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that Second Amendment rights are subject to reasonable restrictions. Just as safer cars and stronger seat-belt laws reduced U.S. motor-vehicle deaths, increased training, stronger background checks and safe-storage rules can reduce gun violence.

No, they won’t prevent every killer hellbent on mayhem from getting his hands on deadly firearms. But they could stop a confused, 15-year-old kid from taking his father’s handgun and shooting up his high school cafeteria, killing four classmates and himself, like what happened in Marysville in 2014.

We urge voters to check “yes” on Initiative 1639.