Spokane County’s top two lawmen are split over the handgun-control measure on the statewide November ballot.
Sheriff John Goldman likes it.
“I think this piece of legislation addresses a problem in our state, and I will vote for it, and I will urge others to do the same,” Goldman said.
Police Chief Terry Mangan hates it.
“It’s a very bad, poorly thought-out piece of legislation flying under the false flag of child safety and motherhood and apple pie,” Mangan said.
Their opposing views reflect the debate among politicians, gun-rights advocates, gun-control supporters and just regular folks over Initiative 676.
“Initiatives like this polarize the society,” said Goldman, a 25-year member of the National Rifle Association. “I think this is an issue that’s also dividing the country.”
Initiative 676 would require people to take eight hours of safety training and obtain a license before owning a handgun. It also would require that every handgun sold or given away in Washington be equipped with a trigger-locking device.
People who aren’t licensed couldn’t legally own a handgun, and authorities could seize their pistols. Anyone knowingly violating the law would be guilty of a misdemeanor, according to the initiative. Subsequent convictions would be felonies.
Like most proponents, Goldman said the proposal promotes safety and would reduce accidental shootings.
“Deaths, injuries and the associated medical costs resulting from accidental discharges of handguns are a problem,” he said.
If nothing else, the measure would educate people in the safe use and storage of pistols, Goldman said.
“It doesn’t prevent anyone from owning a handgun, unless they can’t pass the test,” he said. “And with the training, they should be able to pass the test.”
Like most opponents, Mangan said the measure will erode gun rights. He said he finds the restrictions on ownership and sales of handguns particularly distasteful.
“The spectrum of the initiative covers much, much more than anything to do with child safety or gunlocks,” Mangan said. “It covers a whole range of burdens on people’s rights under the Second Amendment and under Washington state law.”
Mangan said proponents base their claims solely on emotional arguments. “They cannot make the case for this legislation on statistics,” he said.
Over the last three decades, firearms accidents among children and fatal firearms accidents in general “have gone down significantly” across the state and nation, Mangan said.
Goldman isn’t swayed by that line of thinking.
One person dying in a gun accident is too many, especially if that death could be prevented by a trigger lock or a safety class, he said.
“Those losses need to be remembered,” Goldman said. “Even though they were not at the hands of a criminal, they are no less tragic.”
Both men agree the initiative would lead to more paperwork, and Mangan sees that as another reason to vote no on I-676.
“It creates a whole new bureaucracy, an expensive bureaucracy, for police departments and the Department of Licensing that nobody can prove there’s a real need for,” he said.
Goldman said the added paper shuffling shouldn’t stop people from voting yes.
“Much of the infrastructure is already in place,” he said. “The databases are already established. There would be some additional training costs. That’s the one thing that still isn’t resolved.”
Goldman’s views are rare in the state’s law enforcement community.
The 6,000-member Washington State Council of Police Officers, the largest police group in Washington, voted recently to oppose the measure, as did the Seattle Police Officers Guild.
But cops won’t decide the election, Goldman said. “The people will decide, as it should be.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: INITIATIVE 676 Requires an operable trigger lock to be provided with every handgun sold, loaned, delivered, or transferred in any way to another person. Requires gun owners to pass a test to obtain a safety license to lawfully own their gun. Allows police to confiscate handguns that are not legally owned. Requires the license to be renewed every five years. Releases confidential medical records to police or courts to determine a person’s fitness to own a gun.