States can take lead in gun restrictions

January 24, 2013 

The words “Congress” and “bold action” are seldom used in the same sentence. That’s because, by the time political party insiders, lobbyists and the big money campaign donors have raised their hatchets over federal lawmakers, everybody’s afraid to stick out his or her neck.

That leaves the responsibility for bold action, when it’s required, almost exclusively in the domain of individual states.

Without states pressing the issue of marriage equality, for example, through initiatives, referendums and multiple court challenges, we wouldn’t have arrived at a time when gay men and women can openly serve in our military, or when a president in his inaugural address could place it in history alongside civil rights and women’s suffrage.

If not for states moving forward on marijuana laws – a grass-roots movement far behind marriage equality – the federal government might never reassess its classification of the substance.

And now, here comes the issue of our nation’s gun laws.

Dare we hope that a Congress, hopelessly divided on economic ideology, can rally behind President Barack Obama’s call to action, that lawmakers can look beyond the powerful NRA gun lobby and see an electorate ready to accept background checks in all gun sales and a ban or limit on assault rifles and high-capacity weapons?

If not, then it will fall to the states to act.

New York is leading the way. The governor and lawmakers have already agreed on significant changes to the state’s gun laws. They include a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and steps to prevent threatening individuals from having easy access to firearms.

In an extraordinary show of bipartisan support for tighter gun laws, New York’s Republican-controlled Senate passed the legislation by a 43-18 vote.

Washington’s Legislature should take note, and pass a similar bundle of gun laws and mental health initiatives. Sen. Karen Keiser, the long-serving chairwoman of the Senate Health Care Committee, has suggested such legislation in a letter to her colleagues.

Washington doesn’t have the most lax gun laws in the nation, but we are far from the best. Nine other states already have more controls on firearm ownership than Washington.

Surely we can do better, and the changes to New York’s gun laws show us how.

To its already tough gun control measures, New York has now added background checks for all sales, which include private transactions, bans clips holding more than seven bullets and added provisions to keep guns out of the hands of mentally unstable people threatening harm to themselves or others.

Keiser should follow through with a bill based on the New York model.

Our state has not experienced the tragedy of Newtown, Conn., or Aurora, Colo., and we hope that it never happens. Still, while the mass killings in our state may not have attracted national attention, they are no less tragic for the victims and families involved.

It’s time for Washington’s Legislature to act, and join other states in applying pressure on Congress to enact reasonable measures that might prevent future irrational killings.

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