We look to our representatives in Olympia to enact two new sensible reforms — but if they refuse, the people of Washington will turn to the ballot instead.
BY the time our nation awoke to the horror of the deadliest mass shooting in American history Monday, politicians had already flooded Twitter with their usual “thoughts and prayers.” But while thoughts and prayers may help survivors cope with their tragic loss, they will do nothing to prevent the next tragedy.
Thoughts alone can never shield a child’s body from a bullet. Prayers have never returned a dead mother to her grieving children. Thoughts and prayers and mournfulness and reflection are essential for any community suffering the aftermath of brutal acts like that which struck Las Vegas — but only action can save lives.
Dare to talk about what form that action should take, though, and politicians will take a moment from their thinking and praying to roll out another cliché — this time scolding you for “politicizing a tragedy.” When asked about common sense gun responsibility laws, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Monday afternoon that “there will be certainly time for that policy discussion to take place, but that’s not the place that we’re in at this moment.”
Make no mistake, these clichés about thoughts and prayers and waiting for the appropriate moment to discuss the legacy of gun violence are rhetorical devices intended to make Americans feel powerless. But the truth is gun violence is preventable, and it is always the appropriate time to talk about preventing future tragedy. Indeed, there is no greater way to honor those who died than to ensure that more Americans don’t die at the hands of a dangerous individual with an arsenal of legally procured weapons of mass casualties.
We founded the Alliance for Gun Responsibility because it became clear in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre that even though the people were demanding solutions, our elected officials — on both sides of the aisle — weren’t taking our demands seriously. Like all meaningful political movements, we started small — right here in Washington state. And in the four years since our founding, we’ve made remarkable progress.
Because politicians in Olympia weren’t acting fast enough, we brought Initiative 594 to the voters of Washington state in 2014. The bill — which requires background checks for every person buying a gun in the state — passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Two years later, we delivered Initiative 1491 to the ballot. Almost 70 percent of voters approved that measure, which created a system of extreme risk protection orders, preventing dangerous people from gaining access to firearms.
For decades, political leaders in both parties feared to challenge the money and might of the National Rifle Association, an organization that unsurprisingly supports the same politicians who offer “thoughts and prayers” but refuse to discuss lifesaving reforms. But once we proved at the ballot that the people of Washington overwhelmingly support common-sense gun safety laws, our elected leaders started to step up.
In May, a bipartisan team of state lawmakers passed House Bill 1501 into law. Also known as the Law Enforcement and Victims Safety Bill, 1501 notifies law enforcement and domestic-violence survivors if a person with a history of violent incidents tries to buy a gun. This law demonstrated what government can do when politicians hear and respect the will of the people.
We’ve come a long way in Washington state, but the massacre in Las Vegas reminds us that there is still much more to do. It is far too easy for people to access weapons of war designed for mass casualties. Right now, it’s easier to buy an assault weapon in Washington than a handgun.
Lawmakers must fix this. The first step is to pass the Enhanced Assault Weapons Background Checks bill, which adds new requirements for the purchase of these deadly weapons. It includes a thorough background check with local law enforcement, safety training and raises the age of purchase to a more sensible 21 years old.
It is also far too easy for guns to fall into the wrong hands — whether that’s a criminal, a child, or someone else vulnerable to harm. It’s time for the legislature to pass Dangerous Access Prevention, which creates liability for anyone who does not safely store their guns.
We look to our representatives in Olympia to enact these sensible reforms — but if they refuse, the people of Washington will turn to the ballot instead.
The stone wall of “thoughts and prayers” from elected officials might make you feel helpless, but the progress we’ve made here in our Washington is proof that true leadership in American government comes from the people and works its way up. It is time for our elected leaders to transform thoughts and prayers into actions and solutions that will resolve our shameful gun-violence epidemic.