A fine, failed compromise.
A few state legislators have been trying to pass a trigger lock bill in Washington for the past three years. The National Rifle Association has blocked any effort resembling common sense and public safety. This year, the lawmakers and advocates joined efforts with level-headed gun owners and law enforcement to write a more palatable bill.
This is the first of two editorials I wrote on this subject in the same month, both intended to shame legislators into approving the legislation. Still, the NRA used all of its scheming lobbying power to defeat it, and the bill failed to survive the first legislative deadline.
An editorial issue that is worth saving a child's life outweighs pontification about the Clinton/Lewinsky/Starr/Hyde affair any day.
Safe gun storage law is a good compromise
A Herald editorial, January 25, 1999
Finally, safe gun storage has turned into a bipartisan issue with broad support.
It took many serious discussions over the last six months between lawmakers, child safety advocates, prosecutors, law enforcement, medical professionals, and gun rights advocates to get to this point.
Now it's up to the Legislature to recognize the progress made and the sound policy formed in SB5294. It's known as the Whitney Graves Bill, named after the 8-year-old Marysville girl who was shot and killed by a 10-year-old boy.
The bill is sponsored by Senator Jeri Costa, D-Everett, and co-signed by local Senators Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, and Paul Shin, D-Mukilteo. Expect a House version to be filed soon sponsored by Representative Ida Ballasiotes, R-Mercer Island. The bipartisan nature of this safe gun storage bill is just one example of the common ground that's been garnered.
Lawmakers and voters have struggled with this issue for several years. Bills in previous legislatures were blocked by a few hard-liners who weren't even willing to give the issue a heating. Then, a too broadly written initiative was defeated at the polls.
Now, after much compromise, a bill has appeared that encourages and educates gun owners about safe storage, but doesn't needlessly punish. Even gun advocates support this version of the bill, including Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart and Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
Under the bill, a gun owner is charged with reckless endangerment if a child obtains a loaded firearm that was stored improperly. If the gun was stored in a locked box, gun safe, or in any other secure manner, the gun owner would be clear of charges.
It's important to note that prosecutors would not be forced to file these charges. If, say, a father was responsible for the death of his child because he left a gun on the table, he might not be charged. The death of the child could be punishment enough. But, if the child died because an adult was careless and didn't show remorse, a prosecutor would be quick to use the new law. Also, there is no language in the bill that dictates how a gun must be stored. No specific device would be required.
In addition, each firearm dealer would have to post a clearly visible sign that reminds gun owners of the law. This goes back to the importance of education about proper gun storage rather than punishment.
The goal of SB5294 is to save children's lives. This bill won't please everyone. Some child safety advocates want stricter laws. Some gun rights advocates see it as an infringement on liberty. But after several years, this is a fine compromise that ought to get the Legislature's support.
NCEW member Suzanne Tomosy Barrett is assistant editorial page editor of The Herald in Everett, Washington. Her e-mail address is Barrett@heraldnet.com