State needs sensible gun laws to deal with violence

John Burbank, EOI Executive Director

I was talking to a doctor the other day. Somehow we got onto the intake forms you fill out when you have an appointment. It includes questions about your health history, smoking and drinking — but also whether or not there are guns in your house. Why does the doctor care about guns and whether I own a gun? As it turns out, gun ownership can be a health hazard.

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages physicians to inquire about firearms. These doctors support the storage of unloaded firearms with trigger locks and in locked cabinets. Why? Because a gun at home is 43 times more likely to be used to kill a family member or friend than a criminal. With more than 20,000 child deaths attributed to firearms since 2000, it’s easy to understand why physicians have begun to ask this question.

But intake forms asking about the presence of guns in a household should take a backseat to bigger concerns about access to firearms — particularly given the recent rash of gun violence in the Puget Sound. The guns used to murder five people in Seattle at the end of May were legally purchased guns. The gun a 9-year old boy brought to his school in Bremerton that went off and critically injured a little girl — the owner of that gun claimed he didn’t know the gun was missing, and therefore he wasn’t responsible. The Bushmaster rifle that the DC sniper used to kill 10 people was purchased in Tacoma at the Bull’s Eye gun shop.

So what happens when one right — the right to keep and bear arms — violates another right, namely the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? You can’t pursue happiness if you are dead or injured. Just as there are sensible limits on the First Amendment free speech — you can’t shout “bomb” on an airplane — there need to be sensible limits on the Second Amendment that protect citizens’ right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In our state, guns are available for just about anyone. How about a man arrested for domestic violence? Yes. How about someone with a history of mental illness? Yes.

We allow the purchase of military-style assault rifles, have not closed the gun-show loophole, and allow the open carry of firearms. Can you carry a weapon near a bar? Yes. Can you carry a weapon in a park? Yes, all of them. Can you carry with a round in the chamber? Yes, as long as you are 21 years old.

How about buying a gun? No background check is required to purchase a gun at a gun show. There are 14 shows scheduled this summer in Washington state. So felons and the mentally ill will have plenty of opportunities to purchase a gun.

One way to stop criminals from purchasing guns is to hold the vendors at gun shows liable for the criminal use of such firearms. That would put a dent in gun shows and move gun sales to gun shops where purchasers are required to undergo a background check. In 2010, a couple of state representatives introduced this legislation to do just that. What happened? Nothing. No hearings, no committee actions, no vote. The Legislature was too scared to act.

What the Legislature has done is to prevent cities like Everett from enacting their own regulations to protect people from guns. So Everett can’t ban guns in its parks. It can’t prevent 18-year-olds from purchasing guns. It can’t ban the sale of assault weapons.

Those in the Legislature may be intimidated by the gun lobby and the NRA, not just for their own re-election, but for their own well-being. Tom Wales, a federal prosecutor who was the president of Ceasefire, a gun control advocacy group, was shot dead in his own home on October 1, 2001. The perpetrator has never been caught. Good reason to hold your head down as a legislator. There are crazy people out there — and we allow them to get guns. If the deranged man who went on a killing spree in Seattle last month had only his fists, five people would still be alive today.

How should we respond? One group called for three minutes of contemplation, prayer, or meditation… As if that will do anything. There is a more effective way of preventing these senseless acts of violence: Get the Legislature to pass some sensible gun laws, instead of playing hide and seek with the NRA.

From the Everett Herald

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Posted in Column, EOI


  1. Recently I had two good friends randomly murdered by mentally ill individual.
    He also killed 3 other people during his rampage. The perpetrator of these unspeakable murders was able to own a number of guns that he used during commission of these murders. He also had a history of domestic violence offenses. His family, in so many words, described him as a ticking time bomb. Yet our inadequate or non-existent laws concerning the control of guns in WA State did nothing to protect the innocent victims from this madman.

    Enough is enough. This issue needs the serious consideration of all lawmakers and citizens throughout this state. It’s a question of common sense, not how much power the gun lobby, NRA or unreasonable gun users can bring to bare on thin skinned lawmakers. I would like to believe that a majority of the reasonable people in this state could agree that we now need common sense laws that control the possession and ownership of guns.

    I understand that guns will still be available to those who want them bad enough in spite of what laws we pass. But, I also think that new gun control laws could substantially reduce the probability of guns falling into the wrong hands and the epidemic of general gun violence that we have now seen in our communities. It would also give law enforcement additional tools to reduce gun violence.

    Personally I don’t believe in banning guns, because most people out there are sensible and responsible and if they wish to own a gun they should have the legal right to do so.

    I do think that those who wish to own guns should be required to obtain a license in order to own or possess them. Getting such a license would require a state administered test, a training course and the payment of a fee. Background checks would be done on anyone who wishes to have or possess a gun and this would be part of the licensing procedure. Failure to obtain a license would carry a criminal penalty and if an unlicensed person used the gun in commission of a crime they would be subject to an enhanced sentence.

    Even those who are ideologically opposed to gun laws should see that the licensing proposal is a reasonable one. They would see that they would be able to still own guns. The only requirement would be they adhere to the new licensing requirement, which would require them to be law-abiding citizens who have no history of mental illness or criminal convictions.

    If we license people to drive automobiles we should be able to license gun owners.
    We know that guns are at least as dangerous as driving a vehicle probably more so.

    Also the gun show loop-hole (private sales without a background check) should be closed. Your proposal to make gun sellers and gun show dealers liable for damages if guns they sell are used in a crime is also a worthwhile proposal.

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