Gun reform requires a little passion from the reasonable majority.
A person can run out of words trying to describe how ridiculous it is for an otherwise modern nation to be awash in guns. The president tried again this week but had to pause a few seconds while tears replaced words. Those seconds were powerful.
If we are going to have less gun violence in America, passion will have to play a greater part in the march toward sensible policies. Most Americans say, for instance, that universal background checks for people trying to buy a gun is a good idea. Washington voters made that the law in this state when we passed Initiative 594 in November 2014. Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans to strengthen that law Wednesday.
Seattle, like a number of other large cities, is trying to deal with gun violence through local ordinances. But ultimately there needs to be a robust national response to gun violence.
Universal background checks, which would expand national checks that now apply only to federally licensed dealers, would be a good start. But that reasonable, actually quite modest, response to gun violence doesn’t lead to action on the part of people elected to represent Americans in Washington. Democracy is subverted by the passion of opponents of any regulation, passion backed up by dollars and votes.
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Looking at the facts leads reasonable people to reasonable conclusions, but not necessarily to strong action. There was a time when most Republicans, and even the National Rifle Association, supported sensible gun-control measures. That hasn’t been the case for a long time now. The gun lobby has made gun control a divisive issue.
A coalition called the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility rated our state legislators based on their votes and actions on issues involving firearms in 2015. On its scorecard, most legislators earned either A’s or F’s, with only a handful of B’s and D’s and two C’s. That distribution of grades suggests there was not a lot of room for working out thoughtful legislation on the issue. But because voters acted, passing I-594, we have a background-check law.
Action in individual states or cities is good, but not as effective as consistent national policy. Illinois, for instance, has significant gun-control laws, but the states around it do not, so it’s relatively easy for people in Illinois to buy elsewhere.
Seattle adopted an ordinance that taxes gun and ammunition sales and requires gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms to police. Money from the tax will fund research and gun-violence-prevention efforts.
The National Rifle Association and its allies took the ordinance to court. They lost, but some participants in that suit are appealing. One gun dealer said he’s moving his business out of the city and up to Lynnwood rather than pay the tax.
We need better national research, and we need national laws that take the best state and local practices and apply them across the country so it’s not so easy to avoid compliance. And for any of that to happen, Americans who favor basic controls have to act.
President Obama, usually a dispassionate politician, has recognized the need to get more people fired up about gun control.
The proposals he made in his speech were mostly small clarifications of existing policy. That matters, but in this and other recent statements, he’s made a plea for voters to do more than shake their heads at the daily toll of gun violence, and he’s done it by talking about damaged and lost lives, the pain of parents, spouses, children.
Politicians know the people who are against gun control will organize and will use their votes to punish or reward office-seekers based on their positions on the issue.
But politicians haven’t had to worry about the rest of us. That has to change. Most people learn about the latest shooting and feel a sense of outrage, but it soon subsides, and we move on.
That’s an understandable response, and none of us should walk around fuming all the time. What makes more sense is to remember that feeling when an election comes around and use it as motivation to speak out and to check the position of candidates on gun control, then factor that into the choice we make, the way people who oppose controls do.
There’s a place in politics for passion informed by reason.