Gun-safety activists are making a push for legislation in Olympia against assault weapons.
Ralph Fascitelli believes now is an opportune time to get Washington and Oregon to ban sales of assault weapons and to restrict the capacity of ammunition magazines to 10 bullets. Fascitelli leads the gun-safety organization Washington CeaseFire, which is working with Ceasefire Oregon to take action against weapons that increase the death toll in mass shootings.
They announced the collaboration at a news conference in Seattle on Wednesday.
Each time a mass shooting saturates the news, there are renewed calls for tougher gun laws, but those calls are rarely answered with legislation that makes a difference in the easy availability of firearms.
It seemed like Newtown might make a difference, or that Charleston might, and now after Orlando, and after the shooting of police in Baton Rouge and Dallas, there is more talk and more hope that progress can be made curbing access to at least some kinds of guns.
“The truth is, everybody in the gun-safety movement has to be an opportunist,” Fascitelli said in a conversation a couple of days before announcing the campaign. “The gun-rights people say, ‘Well now is not the time to talk about gun violence’ after an event,” he said. “It’s exactly the time to talk about it because it keeps happening again, and it’s when people are motivated.”
Fascitelli got involved after the Columbine High School shootings April 20, 1999. Two teenagers shot and killed 13 people and wounded 20 others before killing themselves. The tragedy moved him as a parent of a son and daughter around the ages of those students. So he joined CeaseFire to help fight gun violence.
He said he grew up in Rhode Island and saw the importance of being involved in community issues through the example of the Kennedys and his own parents. His father was co-president of the Republican Party in Providence, and his mother was a public-health nurse who worked in poor communities.
Fascitelli’s success in the marketing and communications business allows him the freedom to take on a time-consuming cause. He sold his agency, and in 2005, he took over running CeaseFire, which hasn’t been easy.
“It’s a really hard issue,” he said. “Most people come and go. You push the boulder and it goes back. It can rip your heart out, but it’s too significant an issue to let it go.”
Olympia has been resistant to gun-control legislation, which is why another group, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, has turned to the initiative process to get laws on the books. This year it’s working to get Initiative 1491 on the November ballot. The initiative aims to keep guns out of the hands of people at risk of harming themselves or others. CeaseFire supports that work but believes this time it can push Olympia to support what would be a modest piece of legislation based on a Connecticut law passed in 2013 that bans sales of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.
Getting Olympia’s support requires taking advantage of public sentiment while it is passionate.
“When (the Orlando nightclub shootings) happened, we saw an outpouring from the public like never before,” Fascitelli said. “We want to provide a mechanism for people to get engaged.”
CeaseFire will gather signatures both online and at various venues around the state, urging the state to ban assault weapons.
Fascitelli also thinks the tragedy in Orlando will add more voices from the LGBTQ community to support legislation. “I have a gay son, I have a lesbian sister, as do many families,” he said, “and the progress they’ve made has been unbelievable. We want to get the LGBTQ community involved.” Equal Rights Washington has joined the effort to get a bill introduced and passed.
“We’re not under any illusion that the assault-weapons ban is going to solve all of our problems,” he said, “but it is low-hanging fruit, the kind of action that has the greatest chance of succeeding.”
And if it passes, Fascitelli believes elected officials will get past their fear of gun regulation and do more to reduce gun violence.
He cites a study by the Harvard researcher David Hemenway showing that the states that have the strongest gun laws have one-sixth the gun violence.
Washington needs to join those states.