THERE is no single solution to ending gun violence in our communities, but everyone agrees that convicted felons and other dangerous people shouldn’t be able to obtain a firearm. That’s a common-sense notion that has been the law in our country for over 40 years.
In Washington, we conduct criminal background checks on sales of guns at nearly 1,100 federally licensed firearms dealers — often at your local sporting goods store. These background checks are quick, easy and routine for Washingtonians who purchase firearms from licensed dealers. But many sales at gun shows or online occur without a background check and without any guarantee that the purchaser is not a felon or domestic abuser.
Initiative 594 is a vital step toward reducing gun violence in Washington state that ensures everyone who buys a gun goes through the same background check. As law-enforcement officers who have spent decades enforcing the law, we urge you to vote yes this November on Initiative 594 — and to reject Initiative 591.
Initiative 594 closes a dangerous loophole in our law that makes it all too easy for convicted felons, domestic abusers and the seriously mentally ill to obtain firearms. That loophole creates an unchecked secondary firearms market where strangers can buy or trade for guns with no questions asked. This disadvantages licensed firearms dealers and, more important, creates an unacceptable danger to the lives of law enforcement and to our communities.
Initiative 594 adds consistency and clarity to our state’s background-check laws. For law enforcement, this would help enforce our gun laws. For criminals, it would make it harder to evade a background check. And gun owners would use the same licensed dealers to conduct the background checks that they’ve been using for years.
We know that by having background checks on all sales we can measurably reduce gun violence. In states that require background checks for all handgun sales, 39 percent fewer law-enforcement officers are shot to death, 38 percent fewer women are killed by intimate partners and 64 percent fewer guns are “exported” to be used in crimes in other states. I-594 can’t prevent every future act of senseless violence — nothing can. But if it can prevent one more officer dying in the line of duty, or one more tragic domestic violence incident, then it’s the right thing to do.
Initiative 594 would also make it easier for law enforcement to determine the source of guns used in crimes. States like Pennsylvania and Colorado that require background checks on all sales and transfers have a tool that allows law enforcement to identify the last legal purchaser of every handgun. In Washington, it’s too easy for someone to escape accountability by claiming he or she didn’t knowingly sell or transfer a gun to someone who uses it to commit a crime. Initiative 594 closes this loophole. And while opponents of Initiative 594 are attempting to generate fear and confusion among voters, the truth is that this loophole benefits no one but gun traffickers and criminals.
Initiative 594 enjoys support from 72 percent of Washingtonians, according to an Elway poll earlier this year, including gun owners, hunters, prosecutors, law-enforcement officers and National Rifle Association members. It is a solution that strikes a balance between respecting our Second Amendment rights and doing what we can to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.
The other measure, Initiative 591, does the exact opposite. Supporters of Initiative 591 openly proclaim that it exists to block Initiative 594. The truth is much more dangerous than that. Initiative 591 would roll back the existing system of state background checks — a system that is crucial to ensuring domestic abusers and the seriously mentally ill can’t obtain a firearm. We can’t fathom why anyone would want to take away tools that law enforcement currently uses to keep guns out of dangerous hands.
As law-enforcement professionals, we implore you to vote no on Initiative 591 and to vote yes on Initiative 594 to take a clear step toward a safer Washington.
Mark Ericks is an NRA member and deputy Snohomish County executive. Bill Hanson is former president of the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association and former executive director of the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs.