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Prosecutors' view: Why we need I-594 to promote gun safety

Guest Opinion: It's common sense to require the same background checks on all gun sales. And I-594 builds on our existing background check system to match states where far fewer women are shot by their partners.

The current gun sales law in Washington state is pretty simple: You can’t buy a gun if you’re under 18, have a felony conviction on your record, or if you’ve been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment.

Any one of the more than 1,000 federally-licensed firearms dealers in the state — for instance, your local sporting goods store — will run a quick background check on a customer who wants to buy a gun over the counter. But private gun sellers and buyers — who sell and trade guns at gun shows, on the Internet, or even in parking lots — do not have to ask or answer any questions. We think that “no questions asked” is a pretty careless way of deciding who can have a gun.

While it is a crime to “knowingly” sell a gun to someone who is legally ineligible to possess one, a situation in which all gun sales don’t go through the same background check leaves it to the word of the buyer that he or she is eligible to obtain a gun. It's “don’t ask, don’t tell” when guns are sold without a background check.

The best evidence shows that millions of guns are sold in this country through private sales, where no background check is done. A law that applies sometimes isn’t much of a law at all. That is why we support Initiative 594.

Between now and November, you’ll be hearing a lot about Initiative 594. The important thing to remember is this: It will help keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons, people with severe mental illness, domestic abusers and other dangerous people. It won’t be perfect, or solve everything, but it will certainly help prevent some tragedies from happening.

Initiative 594 improves the current law. It simply helps us enforce existing law by closing a loophole and making the law consistent: All gun sales in Washington State, including those by private sellers at gun shows, over the Internet and in parking lots, will go through the same easy background check. Private sales would go through licensed dealers and use the same process that has worked for years — a process that has kept more than 2 million dangerous people from getting firearms.

As county prosecutors in Washington State, we know firsthand the tragedies that can occur when criminals get their hands on firearms. In 2011, a man who bought a handgun in Washington State through a private seller — with no background check —  later stalked and murdered Jitka Vesel, who he had met online. In states with background checks on private sales, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partners.

Although there is no one solution to gun violence, we know that background checks reduce crime and save lives. In states requiring a background check for private handgun sales, 39 percent fewer law enforcement officers are shot to death with handguns and there are 17 percent fewer aggravated assaults involving a firearm. Gun trafficking out of those states dropped 64 percent.

How many senseless acts of gun violence will Initiative 594 stop? We can’t measure this, of course, but to ask the question is to suggest that a certain number of tragic acts of gun violence are acceptable so that we can continue to buy and sell guns “no questions asked.”  Perhaps we have had to meet with too many families who have lost a loved one in a senseless act of gun violence, but it seems to us that if Initiative 594 can stop even one of these preventable crimes, it is the right thing to do.

We are joined by many in our support of this common-sense measure. There is broad agreement about strengthening our firearms laws among gun owners, hunters and NRA members. A long list of people from across the state agree that consistent background checks make sense, including the League of Women Voters, parents and teachers, law enforcement, faith leaders, mayors, and survivors of gun violence. This is a measure that the non-partisan Elway Poll shows is supported by 72 percent of Washingtonians. It is not controversial, nor should it be contentious.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jul 3, 1:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh, most esteemed Mr. Prosecutor,

You know that this is a bunch of crap, given the bald-faced fact that many, if not most, of the perps of multiple shootings have been mentally unstable -- that is: KNOWN to be mentally unstable persons who have bought their guns over the counter legitimately. Others were already on the do not sell list because of DV convictions, being under-age, etc. which did not phase them in the least from acquiring a firearm.

I really hate it when public servants take the path of least resistance just so that they can tell the public, "See, I've done something; now leave me alone."

kmeyer

Posted Fri, Jul 4, 11:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Why don't we just bite the bullet and make murder illegal?

kieth

Posted Sat, Jul 5, 11:26 a.m. Inappropriate

I-676 all over again. I recall that the "progressive" Seattle elected officials were all over that one too.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Oct 15, 11:31 p.m. Inappropriate

Please put your garbage in the dumpster !!

pkpltd

Posted Mon, Oct 27, 8:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Prosecutors....
Don't your judicial ethics require that you tell the TRUTH? You should both be recalled for LYING to your people.
You both KNOW that I-594 is about Much More than "Background Checks", yet you try to convince unsuspecting voters that that's all it is.
Pardon my French, but B.S.
I-594 would Criminalize every time someone touched someone else's firearm without first doing a Background Check and filling out registration paperwork on That gun and That exchange.
So If I'm shooting with my girlfriend, and her gun jams, I can't clear it for her without opening myself to Felony prosecution at your discretion.
I -594 also creates a registry of every firearm, long or short, that ever gets touched.
I notice that you conveniently omit these details in your "if it saves one life it's worth it" treatise. ...
YOU may consider that "Politics", but where I'm from, that's LYING. I certainly isn't telling the Truth.
You might say "well, that's not what we meant, and we'd never do that" - and what, I'm supposed to Trust You? "Oh don't worry, I won't put YOU in jail"....
If you don't mean it, don't make it a LAW. Vote NO on I-594, and write a law that says what you mean. One that actually IS just about getting a Background Check before you can make a SALE, an Doesn't create a Registry, THEN you'll have an Initiative that's not Controversial.
Until then, VOTE NO on I-594.

Posted Mon, Oct 27, 11:10 a.m. Inappropriate

Davedesmon,
Can you show me in the text of the law that says that you can't un-jam your girlfriends gun? Or that you can't even touch it?
Or that it creates a registry?

Just curious...
k

kutis

Posted Mon, Oct 27, 12:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes. Look at the section on "Transfers", note the definition. (Sec. 2. (25))
Then look at the requirements and the paperwork required to be filed, and what has to be on it, and to whom it is sent. Sec 3 (3) & Sec 5 (5).
This Initiative is NOT about Background Checks. Read the actual bill, not just what people say about it. You'll vote "NO".

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