Finding a balance between public safety and gun rights is a challenge.
Cries to restrict access to guns tend to erupt after school shootings and public massacres, followed by impassioned arguments from those fiercely protective of their constitutional right to bear arms.
Washington voters have a chance to weigh in on this debate with Initiative 1639, a comprehensive proposal that makes many changes to state gun laws.
While it contains reasonable elements, there also are questionable and unsettling expectations tucked in to the 30-page document.
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It is for this reason we recommend a “no” vote on I-1639.
When a measure makes as many changes to the law as this one does, there are bound to be pieces of it that make it difficult to accept the entire package.
Among its components, I-1639 raises the age requirement to buy a semiautomatic assault weapon from 18 to 21, which is the same for buying a handgun. The measure also adds a 10-day waiting period and requires additional background checks after the gun is purchased.
These are changes we don’t find particularly alarming, but the initiative is not limited to only those.
The measure also includes changing the definition of a “semiautomatic assault weapon” so it will include semiautomatic sporting rifles. Opponents say the new wording would demonize semiautomatic youth rifles and hunting rifles.
And most telling are the concerns by several state law enforcement organizations who oppose the measure.
The Washington Council of Police & Sheriffs called I-1639 “complicated and confusing” and the group does not think it will lead to improved public safety.
The Washington State Troopers Association said much of it is “unenforceable,” and the Washington State Sheriffs Association also opposes it.
One of the most problematic pieces of I-1639 is that it creates a new crime called “community endangerment” and punishes gun owners if their firearms were not properly locked away and end up in the hands of someone who uses them in a crime.
The Washington State Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association (WSLEFIA) notes that I-1639 makes no exemptions for law enforcement officers if they fail to secure their personal or duty firearms at home.
The association’s website also said that the trunk of a patrol car is not specified as secure storage.
It added that, “Law enforcement officers will be made to investigate the victims of crime rather than pursuing perpetrators of crimes.”
The language in I-1639 “over-criminalizes” gun owners, according to Glen Morgan, executive director of the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights.
He met with our editorial board and said that under I-1639, a gun owner’s punishment for not locking up a gun would be based on someone else’s actions – ranging from a misdemeanor to a felony depending on the crime committed.
We think gun owners should be responsible and secure their guns, but we sympathize with law-abiding citizens who are anxious about how I-1639 will affect their ability to protect themselves at home, and how the proposed community endangerment law will affect them.
In addition, the initiative requires gun training to be renewed every five years after buying a semiautomatic rifle. For some law-abiding gun owners, that could be a challenge to fit in – both money-wise and time-wise.
We understand that backers of I-1639 are saddened by gun violence in our country. Stephen Paolini from the Yes on I-1639 campaign also met with our editorial board, and at age 22, he’s grown up with the reality of school shootings.
He wants voters to approve I-1639 because legislators have been too reluctant to change gun-control laws.
We too want to live in a world where there are no more school shootings, but I-1639 is too far-reaching. We would rather see a gun measure that targets criminals instead of law-abiding citizens.
The Tri-City Herald recommends a no vote on Initiative 1639, the gun initiative.