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Sue Lani Madsen: Supporters of gun storage laws better off working with gun rights groups

FILE – The SentrySafe FIRE-SAFE Gun Safe model, G2459E. (PR NEWSWIRE)
FILE – The SentrySafe FIRE-SAFE Gun Safe model, G2459E. (PR NEWSWIRE)

Everyone in favor of responsible gun ownership, raise your hand. Great, we have a consensus.

Or maybe not. There are earnestly concerned citizens who would vote for “nobody but the police and military should have guns,” while complaining about police shootings or our military returning fire. All while ignoring the reality of the black market supplying the bad guys and the original consensus on the right to bear arms, as expressed in both the U.S. and Washington constitutions. They can chase their words in a circle while we talk about responsible gun ownership.

That’s what Initiative 1639 purports to be, with a website called gunresponsibility.org backed by the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. They’ve captured the high ground with all the good words, ready to take pot shots from behind cover at anyone who questions the initiative as irresponsible.

Nobody favors irresponsible gun ownership. We do have differences on how to define it and how to attain it. It’s easy to convince ourselves that passing a law means a problem is solved, but not every problem is amenable to a legislative solution. Sometimes it is culture that has to change.

Initiative 1639 proposes new laws about safe storage, the kind of laws that increase disrespect for the law. The proposed rules are vague, unenforceable and unlikely to change culture around safe gun storage practices.

Safe storage is defined as a “locked box, gun safe or other locked storage space” but specifically says “nothing in this section mandates how or where a firearm must be stored.” Unsafe storage is not defined, but may result in a Class C felony charge or a gross misdemeanor if a prohibited person takes what doesn’t belong to them and uses it to cause bodily harm.

Not only a thief but the victim of a thief may be charged with a crime. The victim has an alibi as long as the theft is reported “within five days of the time the victim of the unlawful entry knew or reasonably should have known that the firearm had been taken.”

That hunting rifle in the back of the closet could be missing for a couple of years before anyone notices. We don’t apply this logic to victims of car theft when the stolen car is used to kill, maim or cause property damage. We don’t apply this logic to the storage of household chemicals or prescription drugs or alcohol or marijuana edibles, or any number of dangerous items we live with every day.

But among the class of prohibited persons are children, and there’s another point of consensus. Everyone is in favor of keeping guns out of the hands of unsupervised children. And an unenforceable law requiring safe storage will not accomplish the goal.

We’ve shifted culture around storage of household chemicals through a combination of simple packaging changes and education. We address gaps in options for prescription drug disposal instead of threatening to charge people with a Class C felony if they fall into the wrong hands. We work with parents to change the culture around alcohol and marijuana. It takes a culture shift because no one is going to go door-to-door demanding entry to inspect for safe storage of bleach, opioids, whiskey and “weed cookies.” Or guns.

The Alliance for Gun Responsibility has chosen to pursue new laws as the way to increase responsibility instead of building alliances with gun owners to change culture.

You’d expect an organization focused on responsible gun ownership would reach out to collaborate with organizations whose mission includes firearms safety, training and education. But instead of reaching out, this initiative has alienated those needed as allies as assuredly as the second paragraph of this column alienated an entire group of people with snarky stereotypes about the progressive left.

If the goal is more responsible gun ownership, it means talking to gun owners instead of stereotyping. If you want to reach gun owners, you have to work with the organizations they belong to or face them in court. Predictably, the National Rifle Association has filed objections to Initiative 1639 based on a misleading ballot title. And the entrenched culture war continues as both sides lob legal artillery salvos across no man’s land.


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