By Danny Westneat, The Seattle Times (MCT)
Gun people seem unhappy that every time there’s a mass shooting, I stubbornly want to talk about the tool that’s used in all the mass shootings.
“Why are you so convinced guns are the problem?” read a typical response to my column last weekend about the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shootings. “Raising a generation of un-empathetic, anti-social people is the issue.”
“Blah, blah, guns,” wrote another. “Why don’t you look into the kid’s mental state?”
“Why don’t you ask: ‘Where were the parents?'” wrote another. “You’re like a broken record about guns.”
It might be true that mass shootings are on the rise because of mental health, bad parenting, violent video games, the decline of religious values, the pampering of teens today or the media hype about past shooters (all theories from readers).
It’s just that there’s also this pesky common denominator — one so obvious even a newspaper columnist can spot it. And if the root cause of the mass shootings really is that we’ve raised a generation of anti-social people, how is our system of laws supposed to address that?
So I admit: I keep coming back to what we can do something about.
“If you are going to obsess on guns,” asked another exasperated gun owner, “I wish you would use critical thinking instead of ‘feel good’ nonsense. So tell us: What would you do that would make a real difference?”
OK. As it turns out, last year the Washington state Legislature debated a law that potentially could have addressed this very shooting. It didn’t attempt to get at the demons that lead to shootings, but at something simpler: how to keep kids and guns apart.
House Bill 1676 was pragmatic. It said if you leave a gun out and a kid under the age of 16 gets it, then you may be guilty of reckless endangerment. The charge wouldn’t apply if the gun was locked up or had a trigger lock on it, if the gun was stolen during a break-in or if the child used the gun under the supervision of an adult.
At age 15, Jaylen Fryberg wasn’t allowed to possess the .40-caliber Beretta he used in the shooting. Police haven’t said how he got it, except that it was owned by a family member. Bottom line: If we had that law on the books, the gun’s owner might be criminally liable for failing to secure that gun from a kid.
Better yet: Knowing about the law, maybe the gun owner would have locked the gun up and Fryberg wouldn’t have gotten the handgun in the first place.
Though this proposed law only applied to keeping guns stored away from kids under 16 — which responsible gun owners say they do anyway — the National Rifle Association freaked out about it anyway. Brian Judy, the NRA’s lobbyist in Olympia, Washington, called it a sweeping intrusion on law-abiding people. He demanded to know why lawmakers weren’t also requiring that cleaning chemicals be stored in lockboxes.
“There are many items around the house that can cause injury, illness or death to a child,” Judy testified tendentiously. “This legislation is about nothing more than demonizing firearms.”
It wasn’t — it was about demonizing reckless gun owners. But the spineless House of Representatives trembled before the NRA as it always does and never brought the storage bill to a vote.
But guess who decided the same type of law was a reasonable thing to ask of gun owners? Texas! Even the Lone Star State, home of more guns than people, holds adults criminally liable when a kid wrongly gets a gun.
Here you can store or not store your guns however you choose, even with kids around. Remember that guy in Bremerton in 2012 who left a gun out that a 9-year-old took to school, shooting a classmate in the spine? The courts said there’s no law against it.
The sheriff in Snohomish County said Monday that when it comes to the question of why, we may never know the answers. I sure don’t know. But as to the how: The investigation will almost certainly reveal how this 15-year-old got that gun.
That should be on the gun owner. That’s why I harp on it. If we could have done something to stop that, something that even Texas has done, but we didn’t because we’re apathetic or numb or cowed by the NRA, well then it’s also on us.
Danny Westneat is a staff columnist for the Seattle Times.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
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