When Paul Kramer hears news of another mass shooting somewhere in America — now nearly as routine as reports on the weather — he feels the same surge of dread he did that night when police knocked on his door at 2 a.m. about his son.
“It’s always right there beneath the surface,” he says.
Kramer’s son Will was shot in the back and lung at that infamous house party shooting in Mukilteo in 2016. He survived after spending 17 days in the hospital. Three friends died.
What happened next, though, ought to be a blueprint for the rest of America, a country so paralyzed about guns that it seems numb to the fact that they are now the No. 1 cause of death among children (passing car crashes).
The Mukilteo shooting was like the recent shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, at least in its only-in-America storyline. You’ve heard it a zillion times: A brooding, angry teen goes to a store and buys a military-style killing machine, perfectly legally, and then uses it to wreak carnage on utterly innocent people in a group setting.
The Mukilteo shooting turned out to be galvanizing.
First, the shooter, 19-year-old Allen Ivanov, had bought his gun without any clue how to use it, to the point that he sat in the car reading the instruction manual before shooting up the party.
During court proceedings, even he lamented that the gun had been way too easy to get.
Then, four days after the shooting, the maker of the gun, Sturm, Ruger and Co., launched a fundraising campaign. Not for the victims, but for the NRA.
“It was as if they had lost all connection with their own humanity,” Kramer recalls. “The whole sequence of events summed up just how insane the gun situation had become.”
Kramer then became the public face of a gun control measure, Initiative 1639, which among things barred anyone under age 21 from buying a semi-automatic “assault-style” rifle. Though political wisdom says gun control is a radioactive, third-rail issue, Washington voters passed it in a landslide, by more than 18 percentage points.
Kramer wants everyone to know one key point now: Neither the Buffalo mass shooting, nor the Texas mass shooting last week at the elementary school, would have happened if those states had our same law. At least not the way they were carried out.
“You have a young person, a teenager, angry or jealous and wanting to kill, going out and buying an assault rifle — that cannot happen here. Not anymore,” he said.
Washington is one of only six states to raise the age for buying semi-automatic rifles to 21. The measure also said that anyone buying a semi-automatic rifle has to first take a short gun safety course, and then wait 10 days to get the weapon.
“The hope is that it gives pause to those few people whose emotions are running out of control,” he said.
Had they lived here, the Buffalo and Texas shooters, both 18, would have had to steal or borrow a gun, or concoct some other way to carry out a mass attack.
Since the summer of 2019, when I-1639 fully took effect, Washington state hasn’t had any “active shooter” events, defined by the FBI as when a gunman kills or tries to kill people in an ongoing attack in a populated area. This may be luck or coincidence. But we’ll take it, because there have been 115 such active shooter events elsewhere in the U.S. since then — nearly one per week.
Since 2018, Washington state also dropped from ninth in the nation in total gun sales to 17th in 2021, as measured by gun permitting activity. Again, maybe that’s coincidental. Or maybe it’s the result of making it slightly harder to get guns here.
None of this means Washington has solved gun crime — far from it. Gang and drug-related violence has risen of late, fueled by stolen guns, and our depleted police are struggling to do much about it. Plus kids do still get guns — one recent shooting, at a Cinco de Mayo festival in Sunnyside, Yakima County, was allegedly carried out by a 13-year-old.
“The initiative definitely wasn’t a fix-all, or an end-all,” Kramer says.
Gun violence is like the pandemic. You can’t stop it. But can you flatten the curve?
America seems to shrug at extreme levels of gun death, like it’s a normal part of doing business. But Kramer said he also heard some familiar glimmers coming out of Uvalde this past week.
“I’ve heard some of exact statements repeated in Texas that we were saying in Mukilteo back in 2016,” he says. “ ‘He’s too young to buy a six-pack, but he’s old enough to buy an assault rifle?’ That kind of thing. So I just have to believe that as a nation, we’re going to wake up, eventually, and come to our senses.”
Well, we did it here. The voters did it anyway, not the politicians.
I’m recounting this history because it shows that despite it all, community action on this issue isn’t impossible, and it isn’t hopeless. Something that’s worth remembering when news of the next mass shooting rolls in, as it has already, and will again, as sure as the weather.
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