As CEO of the YWCA of Spokane, my job and my calling is to help empower and advocate for women. At the YWCA, one of our primary areas of focus is domestic violence. We offer shelter, counseling, legal and job readiness services. Just as importantly, we provide a voice and a helping hand for the almost 17,000 women and children served by our agency every year.
We must continue to address the horrifying and unacceptable intersection of gun violence and domestic violence: Every month in America, more than 50 women are shot and killed by a current or former romantic partner, and American women are 11 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other developed countries, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.
Washingtonians have made it clear that we want effective gun laws in our state. In 2014, we passed Initiative 594 and made sure background checks were required for all gun sales in our state; 59 percent of voters supported the measure. In November, Washington took another huge step by passing Initiative 1491 and extreme-risk protection orders. Sixty-nine percent of Washingtonians, and almost 62 percent of Spokane County voters, supported the measure that allowed family members to temporarily remove a loved one’s access to firearms based on a demonstrated threat to themselves or others.
The laws we passed at the ballot are already working. Our background check law has resulted in tens of thousands of checks and denied firearm sales to felons, domestic abusers and other prohibited purchasers, according to the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. Extreme-risk protection orders became law last month, and families now have a new tool to help prevent tragedies in our state and to protect their loved ones, just as families in California and Connecticut do. Together, we’re making progress.
Our legislators have made progress, too. In 2015, led by Sen. Andy Billig and Rep. Marcus Riccelli, they passed the Sheena Henderson Act in honor of a woman who was shot and killed in Spokane. That law requires law enforcement agencies to notify family members when someone who has had guns confiscated requests the return of those guns. And in 2014, they passed House Bill 1840 to help make sure people subject to domestic violence restraining orders don’t have easy access to firearms. Both of these laws help keep Washingtonians safe from gun violence.
The laws we have passed in Washington have begun to make a difference in our state, and this year our legislators in Olympia have the opportunity to continue the life-saving work Washingtonians have begun.
This year, the Legislature can pass legislation that notifies police and victims when someone is denied a firearm purchase under a background check. This could make a real and meaningful difference in the lives of domestic violence survivors, who would be able to know if their abuser posed a new and significant risk, and to police officers in our state, who would be able to know if a dangerous person had recently tried to purchase a gun before they try to apprehend them. And that would help keep Washingtonians safe.
Our legislators in Olympia have the opportunity to make real changes and save even more lives. A majority of Washington voters have made our voices clear and we’ve helped save lives. It is time for our legislators to show that they are as committed to life-saving policy as their constituents.
Regina Malveaux is CEO of the YWCA of Spokane.
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