OLYMPIA – State agencies were ordered Wednesday to compile data on deaths and injuries from firearms in Washington, develop a suicide prevention plan and review whether people trying to illegally purchase guns are being prosecuted.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order he called a “public health response to a public health crisis” – the high numbers of suicides, homicides and accidental deaths from firearms. He likened it to efforts to combat motor vehicle deaths through government intervention like laws requiring seat belts and cracking down on driving under the influence.
“While Congress protects the status quo of gun violence, we are not afraid to take action here in Washington state,” Inslee said, announcing the plans at a medical and mental health clinic in Burien.
Agencies to be led by the Department of Health and the Department of Social and Health Services will work with the University of Washington to collect data on deaths and injuries from guns, and recommend ways to reduce those numbers. The Office of Financial Management will work with courts, law enforcement agencies and the Department of Licensing to find ways to improve the effectiveness of the background check system, which voters expanded in 2014 to cover many private sales.
The Health Department will work with the agencies that cover veterans, Indian affairs and public schools to come up with a suicide prevention plan that prioritizes programs for groups that have a higher risk of suicide with firearms. Those include Native American and military veterans.
The Attorney General’s office will update studies on whether persons who have been involuntarily committed for mental health problems have access to firearms, and study what enforcement actions, if any, are taken against people who try to buy a gun even though they are legally banned from owning one.
All studies are to be completed by October.
Inslee was joined by experts in suicide prevention, health care and law enforcement for the announcement. King County Sheriff John Urquhart said the state needs to avoid the “two extremes” of the gun debate: those who shout that any change is an attempt to take away all guns and those who focus only on the numbers of people every day.
“Both sides reduce the issue to a bumper sticker,” Urquhart said. Until that changes, “you will never make any progress.”
But both sides believe in the Constitution and want gun violence addressed, so maybe they can be shamed into sitting down and talking, he said. The sheriff added he hopes the studies can determine where guns used in crimes are coming from.
Inslee said he wasn’t proposing any specific legislation on guns in the session that starts Monday, but he would sign bills that call for safe storage of firearms and add protections for women who are victims of violence, if those proposals pass.