There are several points in Sue Lani Madsen’s recent column (“We need culture change, not a law”) that are inaccurate, but we agree that when it comes to gun responsibility: the culture has to change.
Right now, we are working to get I-1639, Safe Schools, Safe Communities, on the November ballot in Washington. A key component of the policy is Dangerous Access Prevention, which would hold gun owners accountable if a child or other prohibited person uses an unsafely stored firearm to cause harm. This policy is built upon successful laws in 28 other states. States with access prevention laws in place for at least one year saw a 23 percent drop in unintentional firearm deaths among youth younger than 15.
Access to a firearm in a moment of crisis can be the difference between life and death. In school shootings over the last 20 years, more than 80 percent of shooters brought them from their own homes or from the homes of friends or relatives. We also know that more than 75 percent of all youth suicide attempts are committed with a gun found in their home.
Unsecured guns taken from the home by children or prohibited people have been at the heart of some of the most tragic gun violence incidents in our state. These include the 2017 Freeman High School shooting where a 15-year-old boy took a semi-automatic rifle and handgun from his home and killed one young man; the 2015 Marysville-Pilchuk high school shooting where a 15-year-old boy shot five classmates using a semiautomatic handgun from his home; and the 2012 accidental shooting of elementary student Amina Bowman by a classmate who brought a handgun to school in his backpack.
The culture around firearms in our homes needs to become a commonplace conversation about keeping our families and communities safe. Just as parents buy a fire extinguisher for the kitchen, we should talk about the guns in our home and the best way to make sure they don’t fall into dangerous hands.
Not talking about it can lead to tragic, heartbreaking outcomes. I hear from so many people who have lost loved ones because of easy access to firearms in the home. Data shows that 70 percent of children under age 10 know where their parents store their guns and 36 percent of those children said that they had handled the gun without their parents’ knowledge.
Madsen writes, “… that hunting rifle in the back of the closet could be missing for a couple of years before anyone notices.” That’s exactly what our work and Initiative 1639 is trying to change – the hunting rifle shouldn’t be unlocked, in the back of the closet where a child can easily access it, to begin with.
Gun violence prevention is a complex, public health issue that requires a multifaceted approach. I-1639 includes some critically important components, like Dangerous Access Prevention and raising the age to 21 and requiring an enhanced background check for semi-automatic assault weapons.
Despite Madsen’s misconceptions of what the initiative does, a really important component of Safe Schools, Safe Communities, is the firearm safety training requirement to be eligible to purchase a semi-automatic assault rifle. The initiative would require the purchaser show that they have completed a safety training course within the last five years that includes basic safety and secure storage rules, safe handling, and an overview of state and federal firearms laws. Washington doesn’t require any safety training component in order to purchase a semi-automatic rifle. This needs to change.
Lastly, Madsen’s piece reinforces a common myth that the conversation about gun violence prevention pits gun owners against “the progressive left.” The truth is, gun responsibility is a consensus viewpoint in Washington state. Gun owners and non-gun owners, Democrats and Republicans, Washingtonians on the east and west sides of our state agree that it is important to our families and communities to keep guns out of dangerous hands. Recent polling tells us that the majority of Washington voters (67 percent) want stronger gun laws. Republicans, gun owners and even NRA members support the policies in Initiative 1639.
When Safe Schools, Safe Communities, becomes law, it will build upon existing gun laws and help reduce gun violence in our state. While no single law will end all gun violence, a comprehensive public health and safety solution, which includes commonsense laws, like Initiative 1639, will save lives.
Renee Hopkins is chief executive officer of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.
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