Folks, it’s up to us.
In the wake of the horrific Newtown school shooting, social media are rife with collective calls to “do something” to stop gun violence in America, demanding elected officials finally craft sensible gun legislation. I believe Washington state can be a national leader in those efforts, but not through the same old legislative channels, especially with a recently divided state Senate. We’re at a unique moment in time, and Washington has just the vehicle and resources to engage voters in our state to make a start at lasting change nationwide.
Let’s just do what we seem to do very well around here: Run an initiative campaign. It’s time to stop hoping that Olympia or Washington, D.C., will miraculously break partisan gridlock and move out of the legislative rain shadow fostered by gun lobby dollars. Let’s put a stake in the ground and actually get some laws on the books we can work from.
Both closing the gun show loophole and banning assault weapons, except for use by the military or law enforcement, has a real chance at winning right now in Washington state. At the very least an initiative campaign will clearly expose who and where we need to work to convince people that their safety and freedom, and the safety and freedom of those they love and care about, depends upon change.
First, it’s not 1997 and we are far past the ill-fated Initiative 676 campaign for handgun trigger locks that overwhelmingly lost at the ballot box. Since then we’ve sadly faced the 1999 school shootings at Columbine High School, the 2007 campus shootings at Virginia Tech, the 2009 shootings at an immigration service center in Binghamton, N.Y., and at Fort Hood, Texas, the 2012 shootings at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater. We’ve had our own localized tragedies with the 2009 shooting of four police officers in a Parkland coffee shop and the shooting in May of five more at Café Racer in Seattle’s University district. This litany, and so many other tragic events, combined with the Newtown elementary school shooting, has brought us to the tipping point of change in the social epidemic of gun violence.
Second, thanks to the progressive grassroots success of Referendum 74 (marriage equality) and Initiative 502 (marijuana reform), we know exactly where in our state and which voters are likely to support reform. On the heels of these campaigns we have the voter lists and precinct results, determined volunteers that canvassed and phone banked and proven campaign structures and tactics to win. Attention Zack Silk (campaign manager for Referendum 74): It’s time to get back to work.
Third, it’s an off election year with one “prime time” battle, Seattle’s mayoral race. And we all know when it comes to progressive victories in our state, as Seattle votes go, King County usually goes, with the potential of voter turnout and vote totals to boost an initiative campaign to victory. Mayor Mike McGinn and all your potential opponents, Sen. Ed Murray, Councilmember Tim Burgess, Peter Steinbrueck and Charlie Staadecker, if you guys can’t agree on anything else, you must agree on this and dedicate campaign resources to a collective win for all of our citizens.
Fourth, as we saw from the Initiative 1240 (charter school) campaign, our state has individuals with deep pockets who can blunt the avalanche of NRA dollars surely headed our way. We know the names — Gates, Allen, Bezos, Balmer, Hanauer — individuals who truly care about our communities and hopefully recognize that gains in public health, education and civil rights mean very little without preserving the most basic right of public safety.
Finally, we have to start somewhere, some place, to build a national movement. Why not here? I’m not naive enough to think that one initiative campaign is a panacea in a country that has 270 million guns in private hands. Or that we can solve the myriad of issues involved with one piece of legislation. The gun industry, gun trafficking, the need for better mental health services and so much more will eventually need to be addressed.
But, an initiative has a real opportunity to get those issues out in the open and shine the light of day on legislative positions, clearly show supporters pro and con and their funding sources, and create an ongoing public dialogue for change.
Issue campaigns are a unique vehicle for seeing who is “in” and who is “out” and how to craft the road ahead. When it comes to what are really small steps in rational gun reform – closing the gun show loophole and banning assault weapons – I want to know exactly where Washington voters stand and how to make a difference. I’m in for an initiative campaign that starts a movement. Are you?