More Americans have been killed as a result of gun violence since 1968 than have died fighting for our country on the battlefield during its entire history, yet Congress — which is currently controlled by the Republican Party — continues to refuse to take any meaningful actions that would address this pandemic.
That means that in the short term, states are going to have to lead the way in identifying and enacting solutions to save lives and protect communities.
Within the last three years, Washington has passed two laws to respond to the scourge of gun violence. The first was Initiative 594, approved in 2014, which requires universal background checks on gun sales in the state. The second was Initiative 1491, overwhelmingly passed last year, which allows family members to petition the judiciary for extreme risk protection orders.
The passage of I-594 and I-1491 were very positive developments for the well-being of all Washingtonians. But there is more we should be doing — much more.
Unfortunately, because Republicans have been in control of the Washington State Senate for the last few years, the Senate has been a graveyard of progress. Bills to require responsible gun ownership have failed to gain any traction, let alone a vote. In a matter of weeks, though, the Senate majority could flip… and if it does, it’ll be a new day in our state’s capital, with better prospects for legislation we need.
Legislation like a new law banning the sale of bump stocks, which Democratic State Senate candidate Manka Dhingra has said she will introduce immediately.
(Dhingra is vying to represent the 45th District as its next state senator; if she wins, Democrats will control the Washington State Senate beginning at the end of November, ending five years of Republican control of the chamber.)
“It is unacceptable that we have one hundred gun deaths every day in this country,” said Dhingra in a news release issued by the Senate Democratic campaign.
“I am tired of hearing about mass shootings and school shootings on the news. There are reasonable and realistic steps we can take to make it harder for people to commit suicide with a gun, or perpetrate domestic violence, or go on one of the terrifying mass shootings that have become all too common. I am committed to taking immediate action by using my experience as a prosecutor and advocate for mental health policy in the Senate to help keep our families and communities safer.”
Specifically, Dhingra wants to:
Ban bump stocks
Dhingra will work with Gov. Jay Inslee’s office and prime sponsor legislation banning bump stocks and other devices that turn legal semi-automatic firearms into effectively fully-automatic machine guns. It has already been reported that the Las Vegas shooter had at least twelve guns modified with bump stocks so they could fire hundreds of rounds per minute. This method circumvents laws already on the books intended to prevent civilians from possessing fully automatic weapons.
Close loopholes for domestic violence offenders
Currently in Washington state, those convicted of domestic violence offenses lose access to guns with one exception: those convicted of domestic violence (DV) harassment. As a law enforcement official, Dhingra has seen domestic violence offenders take advantage of this loophole to keep their guns and put the victims of their harassment at serious risk. More than half of all women murdered with guns in the US are killed by intimate partners or family. When a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, it increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. Dhingra will propose legislation to close this loophole so all domestic violence perpetrators are equally held accountable.
Bar individuals who have a history of violence and are found to be incompetent from having access to guns
When an individual is charged with a serious or non-serious misdemeanor offense and is found to be not competent by a court of law to proceed to trial, the case is dismissed. Individuals who are charged with serious misdemeanor offenses who cannot go to Western State Hospital for restoration services still keep their right to possess a firearm, and Dhingra will close this loophole. In her time as a prosecutor running King County’s Regional Mental Health Court, Dhingra has seen individuals with concerning history of violence go through the system repeatedly, utilizing loopholes to stay in our communities all the while waiting for something more serious to happen. We have to ensure that individuals who are charged with crimes, have been found to be not competent due to mental disease or defect and have a history of violence cannot access their guns.
After Dhingra and her team announced that she is ready to lead in combating gun violence as the 45th District’s next state senator, her Republican opponent Jinyoung Lee Englund made a statement of her own, in another “me too” moment.
“I support enhanced background checks,” Englund said. “I believe they are necessary to ensure criminals and those with mental illnesses are not allowed to possess a firearm and roam freely in our communities. I am committed to finding real solutions to the problem, and it begins with enhanced background checks.”
Englund also made this declaration in her statement: “I believe every day citizens should not be able to turn a gun into a fully automatic weapon.”
(We’re not sure what is meant by “every day citizens”, but guessing that means anyone who’s not a servicemember or law enforcement officer.)
Read the whole thing, though, and notice that while Englund pays plenty of lip service to “solutions”, there’s no commitment to introduce or shepherd through the Senate any specific ideas to combat our gun violence pandemic. Nowhere does Englund pledge to introduce a bill to enhance background checks, for example.
And that’s because, regardless of whether Englund’s stated beliefs are sincere, she and the operatives running her campaign know full well that if she wins, it means more legislative inaction on priorities like gun responsibility — because she is the twenty-fifth vote the Republicans need to preserve the status quo in Olympia.
Top Senate Republicans like Mark Schoesler and Mike Padden — whose financiers are bankrolling Englund’s campaign — are firmly in the pocket of the gun lobby, including the National Rifle Association (NRA). They’ve given no indication whatsoever they are open to bucking the NRA and working with Democrats to advance necessary measures to protect Washingtonians from gun violence.
As long as Schoesler is majority leader and Padden controls the Senate Law and Justice Committee, the Senate will remain a graveyard of progress on this and many other pressing issues, as Senator Jamie Pedersen explained to the Seattle Times:
“Nothing’s going to happen if we’re not in control,” said Pedersen, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Law and Justice Committee. [Pedersen is Padden’s counterpart.] “And if we do take control, then I think there are some things we can definitely do.”
As for an outright ban on assault weapons, “I think that’s a nonstarter for now,” he said.
While he acknowledged that no law would be certain to stop gun violence, Pedersen said passing legislation over time would tighten the laws enough to cut down on gun deaths.
Among Englund’s financial backers are the Gun Owners Action League of Washington, which is on the record as opposed to bills requiring safe storage of guns and allowing the destruction of forfeited firearms.
The group has given $1,000 to Englund’s campaign.
Englund told The Seattle Times she doesn’t agree with all of the group’s positions. But that doesn’t matter. The gun lobby knows that if Englund wins, Schoesler and Padden stay in charge, and will retain the power to kill off any gun safety bills they don’t like. The gun lobby can overlook Englund’s divergence from the party line. They need her to enable their accomplices in the Senate to stay in power.
What ultimately matters to them is the majority, not what Englund tells Eastside voters in an effort to attract support for her candidacy.
It is important that every voter in the 45th understands this dynamic.