We Need Better Gun Safety Laws in Washington State

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State Capitol

Dec. 17 update: This afternoon I proposed an amendment adding the specific gun safety measures listed below to the City’s lobbying agenda for the upcoming State legislative session. The City Council approved this amendment. 

America is still grieving for the children and adults who lost their lives last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut. That horrific event ripped deep into our national soul.

The level of violence is higher in the United States than almost anywhere else in the developed world. Why? And more importantly, what can be done about it? A lot can get done -- if our leaders in Olympia can muster the courage to strengthen safety laws for the people of Washington State.

As President Obama said at the vigil Sunday night in Newtown, “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

The Connecticut shootings should enable our Governor, our Governor-elect and leaders in the Washington Legislature to focus on solutions and bring us together to do something meaningful to end this nonsense.

Economist Richard Florida has looked for causation between gun violence and various social and economic conditions. While Professor Florida acknowledges that it is difficult to establish direct causation, he does suggest that there are obvious associations that shouldn’t be ignored.

Professor Florida’s data analysis shows that states with just three gun safety regulations—an assault weapons ban, trigger locks and safe storage requirements—have lower levels of gun deaths on a per capita basis than states without these protections.

Florida’s analysis also reveals that the factors associated with higher firearm deaths at the state level include poverty and an economy dominated by working class jobs. Conversely, firearm deaths are less likely to occur in states with higher levels of college graduates, more “creative class” jobs, higher levels of economic development and a larger number of immigrants.

Florida’s research suggests two separate courses of action for Washington State.

Reasonable Gun Safety Laws Needed for the State

First, to lower firearm deaths, our elected officials in Olympia should secure passage of reasonable gun safety laws, including—

  • A ban on all assault weapons as existed nationwide until 2004.
  • A ban on large capacity ammunition magazines that fuel semi-automatic weapons.
  • Universal background checks, which must include closing the gun show loophole.
  • Trigger locks and safe storage requirements.
  • Micro-stamping technology in all firearms sold, purchased or delivered in the state to improve the capabilities of police in tracing fired bullets.

The evidence is clear. States with reasonable gun safety regulations have fewer gun deaths. Unfortunately, Washington ranks low on the list of states with strong gun safety laws. The Washington Legislature should quickly adopt prudent safety regulations during the next legislative session starting January 14.

And don’t be fooled by those who suggest that gun deaths are merely a big city problem. Professor Florida reports that “more than 80% of America’s 21 worst mass killings…took place in suburban towns or rural areas, including each and every one of the ‘five worst school massacres in U.S. history.’ More than two-thirds of the 61 mass shootings that occurred between 1982 and 2012…can also be traced to a suburban or rural location.”

Legislators outside of the Seattle area—Republicans and Democrats—should be leading the effort in Olympia to secure passage of gun safety legislation to protect their constituents from gun violence because gun violence occurs everywhere in Washington State.

Addressing Economic Factors

Second, Professor Florida’s research suggests that gun deaths are higher in states with high levels of poverty and working class jobs and lower in states with strong economic growth and a diversity of employment options. We can do something about these conditions as well, including—

  • Investing heavily in evidence-based early childhood interventions known to reduce poverty and crime and improve education outcomes. My colleagues and I recently fully funded the Nurse Family Partnership, an example of a proven early childhood intervention. The city’s Families and Education Levy, renewed and doubled by generous Seattle voters in 2011, also invests early in a child’s life.
  • Enhance prisoner release policies and programs so every offender released from prison has a work plan, a safe place to live, and a follow-up program designed to help the individual live a successful life. These programs are successfully used in other states to reduce recidivism, encourage work and keep offenders out of the ranks of the unemployed. Washington should join them.
  • Create more family-wage jobs by heavily investing in public works projects, like repairing and enhancing our deteriorating transportation infrastructure. We can debate the role of government stimulus programs to restart the economy, but we can all agree that strategic public works investments make sense and create a solid foundation for future economic growth.

Washington’s Gun Safety Laws Just Don’t Make Sense

What happened in Connecticut on Friday is so beyond our realm of understanding that we can’t make sense of it. I also can’t make sense of Washington State’s gun safety laws. Olympia can do better.

The Seattle City Council can regulate the size of the signs people carry into Council Chambers for safety reasons, but we can’t prohibit firearms at Council meetings? Nonsense.

Here is the website for your State legislators: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder/.

Let’s tell our State leaders in Olympia: get serious about gun safety.

(My friend, David Perez, has written about other prudent gun safety steps our state can take to protect the people of Washington State.)