Something dramatic has shifted in gun politics here, after decades of being kept in a stranglehold by voters and by the lobbying force of the NRA.
Nothing has been more jammed up in recent decades than the politics of guns. But now the dam has completely broken.
How can I tell? Well, for starters, the gun folks are completely freaking out.
“It’s all hands on deck, battle stations,” warned Alan Gottlieb, of Bellevue’s Second Amendment Foundation, about the possibility of a spate of gun-control measures sweeping the country.
This is the “most extreme anti-gun legislative agenda to date,” the NRA said in a blast bulletin Friday about proposals that may come before Washington state lawmakers in January.
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Said a headline Friday on MyNorthwest.com, a site for talk-radio stations KIRO-FM and KTTH-AM: “Progressives really are coming for your guns in Washington.”
No, they’re really not. The main proposal, suggested this past week by the Seattle-based Alliance for Gun Responsibility, is to ban high-capacity ammo magazines (clips that hold more than 10 bullets). To date they haven’t suggested coming for any actual guns, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see bills again in January to further restrict or ban the sale of so-called assault rifles.
A more accurate depiction of what’s going on came from Dave Workman, a local gun-rights writer, in Soldier of Fortune magazine:
“Second Amendment advocates from one coast to the other should be paying close attention to what is happening in Washington state, which has become a test tube for anti-gunners …”
That is right: We are now the nation’s gun-policy test tube. But it isn’t because of extremists or zealots. It’s because of you, the voters.
Initiative 1639, on the ballot last month, really was the most sweeping gun-control measure ever sent to voters here. It banned sales of semi-automatic rifles to anyone under 21, lengthened some gun-purchase waiting periods, mandated training and imposed penalties if guns aren’t stored properly.
Ten years ago, any one of those would have been heavily contested and likely failed a public vote, even in our blue state.
But I-1639 sailed through by 19 percentage points. It won in the liberal parts of the state, as expected. But it also won in two Eastern Washington counties (Spokane and Whitman) as well as Clallam and Jefferson counties out on the Olympic Peninsula. (It is now being challenged in court.)
Gun control may turn out to be like the politics of same-sex marriage: Once almost unimaginable, until it wasn’t. It’s already hard to recall why society was so polarized about it.
There is a constitutional right to bear arms, and it must be respected. But it doesn’t say there’s a right to bear any arm, or to load in any ammunition clip. Nor does it say that getting a gun has to be as convenient as picking up a six pack of beer.
“It’s too (bleeping) easy to buy a gun,” Joshua O’Connor, the Everett teen who was planning a school shooting in February, wrote in his diary. He pleaded guilty this past week to attempted murder.
If even the school shooters are saying it’s too (bleeping) easy, maybe it really (bleeping) is?
Making it marginally harder to get guns, especially for those who shouldn’t have them — that’s gun control. It won’t stop all shootings by any stretch. But it can stop some.
Last month, the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs released an accounting of our state’s gun background checks (a system also decried by gun groups over the years). In the past year, though, the system blocked 3,248 people from buying guns, usually because they had a criminal record or mental-health issues.
The report gives some examples. One customer tried to buy a gun in one county and was denied, then tried again in another county six days later. This triggered an alert, and local police discovered he was “a former gang member attempting to purchase a firearm.” He pleaded guilty to “false swearing” and got 90 days in custody and two years of probation.
“We know that it only takes one person with ill intentions to make a tragedy. Each of these instances could have had a very different outcome,” the report concludes.
This is how gun control will work, if it works at all in a state awash in guns. The success will be in shootings that don’t happen. Which by definition will never make the news.
What has made the news is that the NRA, after having a stranglehold on our politics for decades, is officially on the run here. So expect the anti-gunner experiments to continue.