Safe gun storage: What’s the best method to enact change?

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What’s the best approach to change an action or behavior? The carrot or the stick? This appears to be the question when it comes to the safe storage of firearms.

Enacting penalties for adults who own a firearm that is found and used in a crime or accident by a child is the purpose of House Bill 1122, sponsored by Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle.

The bill recently passed through a House committee with seven “yes” votes and six “no” votes and makes an adult liable if a firearm they own is unsafely stored and found by a child.

The issue hits close to home. Bill supporters who testified in favor of the proposal included several family members impacted by the fatal Frontier Middle School school in 1996. Frontier student Barry Loukaitis, then 14, brought a gun to school and shot and killed his teacher and two students, wounding a third. The shooting, among the first school shootings in the nation, stunned the tight-knit community of Moses Lake. How could this happen in our town? It’s still hard to fathom and so many family members, students and staff were hurt by the event. A memorial was erected outside the school to honor all affected. Years later, flowers are still left to honor those slain and survivors. The shooting definitely made a mark on our community. We wish it had never happened.

Kagi recently said during a judiciary committee hearing that the primary goal of the bill is to prevent teen suicide by restricting access to firearms in the home. We believe this is an admirable and honorable goal, but are concerned about people impacted by changes to the law. There are law-abiding and responsible gun owners out there. What effects would a new law have on them? And who defines the liability and to what extent? Who’s responsible if a gun is somehow accessed during a break-in committed by teens?

One potential problem is the bill could be used to penalize grieving parents, Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, said during the hearing. He mentioned other bills on the agenda he felt were more effective at enacting change. Other gun bills approved in committee included proposal that would require dealers to report names of people to the Washington State Patrol who fail a background check when they try to buy a weapon, according an article from The Daily World. Domestic violence victims are also protected if the perpetrator listed in a protection order tries to buy a gun. The victim named in the order would be informed of the attempted purchase, the article states.

We think there’s honor in protecting children and society from crime. The best way to do so is the subject of extensive debate and conversation. With every new law, there’s a ripple effect that must be considered. We encourage lawmakers to keep the conversation going on this issue.

— Editorial Board

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