Two statewide initiatives on the November ballot ask Washingtonians to think about guns. I-940 would make it easier for prosecutors to pursue charges against police officers who shoot a suspect, and I-1639, would impose burdensome regulations on civilian gun owners. Voters should say no to both.
Most issues that wind up as initiatives are things the Legislature should deal with. Direct democracy has its place, but advocates with pet causes overuse it to push extreme versions of their priorities. The result all too often is a law that sounded good in theory but winds up overreaching. And once enacted, they can be very hard to fix.
Both I-940 and I-1639 suffer from those failings. Each contains some good ideas, but lawmakers should implement them through a deliberative process that brings all stakeholders to the table.
I-940: Police training and deadly force
Last year, Spokane city and county law enforcement shot and killed five people. Prosecutors did not charge any of the officers with a crime. Based on the evidence available to the public, they weren’t even close calls.
Washington has a high prosecutorial bar for charging cops with crimes in shooting incidents. An officer must have “evil intent” to be guilty of wrongful shooting. That bar protects the men and women of law enforcement who risk their lives serving our communities.
I-940 would lower the standard, making it easier to charge officers. Officers would be forced to second-guess in situations where lives are at risk and fractions of a second matter.
The initiative does have some good elements, too. It would mandate officer’s receive training in de-escalation techniques and how to respond to people in mental health crisis. Better trained officers are always welcome.
This initiative had a convoluted path to the ballot. Lawmakers in Olympia met with initiative supporters and opponents to write a compromise law that satisfied everyone. They tried to have it supplant I-940, but a deeply divided State Supreme Court blocked that move and said I-940 had to go before voters.
The compromise wasn’t perfect, but it was far preferable to the extreme changes if I-940 passes. Lawmakers next year could still pass the compromise, and they probably will if the initiative fails. If it passes, though, the compromise would face a tougher vote and could fail, leaving Washington stuck with a bad law.
Voters should support compromise and the legislative process by voting no on I-940.
I-1639: Restrictions on firearms
Anti-gun activists behind I-639 ask voters to go too far with regulating firearms. The 30-page initiative is chock-full of rules and regulations of questionable merit. It’s a wish list of gun-control advocates that would overburden the constitutional right to bear arms.
For example, the initiative’s proposal to criminalize what supporters deem improper storage is problematic. If someone steals a gun from a home and commits a crime with it, the original owner of the gun – a victim in this scenario – could face felony charges. Moreover, with the strict storage requirements, those who choose to keep a weapon for home protection might find it inaccessible in an emergency.
The initiative also would impose new age restrictions on buying and owning several types of firearms, increasing it to 21. That ignores the fact that in many rural communities where hunting and sport-shooting are a common activies, such limits would create needless barriers to recreation.
It’s not as if lawmakers have refused to discuss guns and pass reasonable laws. Washington has more than three dozen gun laws on the books.
Indeed, a few of the ideas in the measure are intriguing and deserve fuller consideration by lawmakers. Things like waiting periods to buy a gun and better education requirements have merit. Even the gun storage requirements are worth considering if tempered.
I-1639 has too many bad ideas larded onto a few good ones. Voters should reject it and continue to urge lawmakers to pursue reasonable gun law reforms.
Both I-940 and I-1639 emerge from important national discussions about police shootings and gun violence. Rather than overreact, though, Washington should vote no on these hardline initiatives and continue to work with legislators to find common ground.