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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Sunday Spin2: Tread lightly on tragedy during campaigns

Washington residents can expect the volume to go way up on the gun control issue with dueling initiatives on the November ballot. I-591 wouldn’t allow any changes in background checks unless they are national; I-594 would extend background checks in Washington to private sales.

The recent shooting at Seattle Pacific University predictably generated discussion on the issue. But it also raised an interesting political question: Is it OK for a campaign to piggy-back on a tragic event? And if so, how far can you go?

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. . . The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which runs the Yes on 594 campaign, recently sent out an e-mail call to “Send a Message of Support to SPU.”

The e-mail is tasteful, with a photo of a lighted vigil candle rather than a blood-spattered scene, and neither the e-mail nor the link ask for campaign money. The link features fill-in boxes for name, e-mail address and personal message. But it’s a simple click to the main web page, which also carries a message of thoughts and prayers being with the Seattle Pacific University, and a red “Contribute” button – to the alliance – close at hand.

Some politicians have been criticized in the past for using other tragedies like 9/11 in campaigns. Acceptance often depends on your feelings about the candidate or the issue.

There’s also a problem trying to link the incident too closely to I-594. One can say the SPU shootings are just another example of too many guns in the wrong hands of too many people. But even if it passes in November it wouldn’t prevent a similar incident in the future. Although suspect Aaron Ybarra has serious mental health problems now, he legally purchased the shotgun used in the shootings years ago. The new law wouldn’t force a future gunman to give his up.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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