Many of us in Seattle are suffering from midwinter blues. The holidays are behind us, the hours of daylight are short, and the rain seems incessant. The news from many parts of the world is at best depressing and in some places horrifying. What’s worse, none of these things seems to be in our direct control.
Last week, though, people living and working in Seattle came face-to-face with another problem — firearm violence. On Tuesday, a man was shot and killed at Westlake Center by an assailant with a gun. On Wednesday afternoon, police shot a man during a narcotics operation after he rammed a patrol car and brandished a gun. That night, in the heart of downtown Seattle, passersby witnessed a mass shooting. One person died and seven others were injured, the youngest a 9-year-old boy.
All of us are at risk of firearm injury and death, including homicide and suicide. But children and adolescents, people struggling with mental-health issues or substance abuse, people living in poverty, communities of color and victims of domestic violence are at the greatest risk. Firearm violence affects all of us, directly or indirectly.
Unlike the dark midwinter days and the multiple problems around the world, there are actions we each can take to stop the problem of firearm injuries and deaths. First, it is important to realize that 75% of the deaths from firearms in Washington state are due to suicide, tragedies that are often forgotten in the discourse about firearms, Second Amendment rights and self-defense. The vast majority of people who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die from suicide. Unfortunately, when the person uses a firearm, there is usually no second chance — about 90% of people will die from a suicide attempt using a firearm, even in a city like Seattle with one of the best emergency medical service systems and trauma centers in the United States.
Second, it is important to become educated about the issues. We have collectively conducted research on firearm injuries for more than four decades and can unreservedly say that it is not a simple issue. We live in a country in which the Second Amendment has been interpreted by the courts as allowing individuals in the United States the right to own firearms. As a result, there are an estimated 250 million to 300 million guns in homes across the nation. Neither of those facts is going to change. However, the overwhelming majority of people in the U.S. and the state of Washington support laws and policies that restrict access to firearms by those who would use these weapons to harm themselves or others.
The state Legislature is in session and considering a variety of bills related to prevention of firearm injuries and deaths, such as those we’ve seen on our streets in Seattle last week, as well as the deaths from suicide we neither see nor hear about. These include Senate Bill 6077, which would prohibit possession or purchase of high capacity magazines (holding more than 10 rounds); Senate Bill 6288, which would create a Washington state office of firearm violence prevention, and improve data on firearm injuries as well as administer grants to communities to prevent firearm injuries; Senate Bill 6553, which would facilitate access to appropriate mental-health treatment for victims of gun violence; House Bill 2519, which would apply similar restrictions to purchase of ammunition as now apply to purchase of firearms; and Senate Bill 6294, which sets firearm safety training requirements to obtain a concealed pistol license.
Part of living in a democracy is letting our elected officials who make our laws and set our policies know what we feel is important for us, our families and our communities. While we can’t do anything about the rain, we can do something about firearm violence.