Instead of recoiling from a spate of high-profile gun accidents, Washington residents appear to be arming themselves at a record rate.
First an 8-year-old in Bremerton was nearly killed when a gun in her classmate’s backpack went off.
Next, kids in Pierce and Snohomish counties were killed by guns left behind in cars.
Then the 10-year-old daughter of a Spokane cop shot herself in the leg with his service weapon.
All were accidents, all leading to pointless injuries or death to kids. The victims were so young and innocent. It made the past few months the worst run of publicity for guns, and the idea of home gun ownership, in years.
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Even gun-rights advocates braced for some sort of backlash.
Yet the opposite is happening.
In March and so far in April, more people have gotten concealed-pistol permits than ever.
It’s part of an extraordinary “arming up” of this state that began a few years ago and only seems to be escalating. Since 2009, the number of people licensed to carry here has jumped more than 50 percent, to about 360,000.
Now one in 14 Washington adults is legal to pack concealed heat — nearly triple the rate of the gunslinger state of Texas.
Gun sales are up everywhere. So much so that The New York Times just ran a feature on “covert carry” clothing lines, with quick-access holster slits for the fashion-aware gun owner.
Guns are smoking hot here.
“This gun surge has stunned even me,” says Dave Workman, editor of TheGunMag.com and a local gun-rights crusader. “I look at these numbers and I say ‘wow!’ We are a really heavily armed state.”
He believes Washington now ranks in the top five for per capita concealed-pistol permits. That represents only a fraction of gun ownership, because many guns don’t require a license.
I asked Workman: What is going on?
He said the accidents have raised concerns about gun safety. But at the same time, there were high-profile home invasions in which guns may have saved the day — including one in March in North Bend in which a homeowner shot and killed an intruder who had kicked in his locked bedroom door.
He speculates the gun surge may also be due to the economy. (“Some believe society is going through a meltdown, so they go get a gun.”) Or to Obama’s presidency. (“There’s concern if he gets re-elected, the gloves come off on the Second Amendment.”) Or it’s a rolling reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court affirming, in 2008, a right to be armed.
“People realize it’s completely OK to have a gun,” he said.
This spring, the gun-control group Washington CeaseFire ran its largest public-health ad campaign in 30 years, arguing the opposite. Bus ads exhorted people to “think twice about having a gun in your home.” The ad pointed out that your gun is far more likely to shoot your friend or relative than an intruder.
The campaign doesn’t appear to be working, I said to Ralph Fascitelli, CeaseFire’s board president.
He insisted it’s too soon to tell: “This is a give and take that’s going to go on forever.”
Could be. But it feels like in the great gun debate of the past 20 years, the people, for better or worse, have voted. With their trigger fingers.
I’m all for whatever works, so, in that spirit, Workman has a provocative idea. Why not teach some basic gun safety in the schools? If we’re trending toward the day when everyone owns a gun, why not take on the public-health aspects directly? As we do with, say, sex ed.
“The chances you’re going to come into contact with a gun or someone who has a gun are growing dramatically,” Workman said. “Firearms are dangerous. So rather than fighting the old wars, maybe some basic gun-safety training ought to be part of the curriculum.”
The schools hardly need a new controversy. But the man’s got a point. If we’re going to be so awash in guns they’re now driving our fashion, we might as well learn to live with them.
The crucial word there being “live.”
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.