American Opinion: Washington state is poised to model a major culture shift in gun laws

From the editorial:

Current and former students from Michigan State University and their supporters attend a rally outside of the state Capitol Building on Feb. 15, 2023 in Lansing, Mich.
Current and former students from Michigan State University and their supporters attend a rally outside of the state Capitol Building on Feb. 15, 2023 in Lansing, Mich.
(Scott Olson/Getty Images/TNS)

When campus officials at Michigan State University began tweeting "Run, Hide, Fight" as guidance to students for how to handle a gunman actively shooting on campus earlier this week, they were essentially saying: Sorry, we are out of ideas.

American Opinion
American Opinion
Tribune graphic / Forum News Service
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This advice was not unique to Michigan, of course. Formulated by the Department of Homeland Security, it is widely disbursed. In Washington, even the tiny Shelton School District posts videos advocating the approach.

It may be practical in the moment. But "Run, Hide, Fight" is not an adequate response. It is a concession that the feds, at least, have nothing more concrete to offer on public safety.

Washington state gun policy, however, has been moving in a more constructive direction for nearly a decade. Since 2014, voter initiatives have pushed the Legislature to close background-check loopholes, institute red-flag laws and prohibit the sale of assault rifles to anyone under 21.

This session, gun responsibility advocates believe they are on the verge of bold new action that would hold the firearms industry accountable for helping to curb gun violence. Two proposed laws gaining traction are familiar: a prohibition on manufacturing, selling or distributing assault weapons anywhere in the state; and House Bill 1143, a requirement that anyone purchasing a firearm have a permit proving that they have completed gun-safety training. Both pieces of legislation have made it out of their policy committees, en route to a floor vote.


But Senate Bill 5078, known as the "Justice for Victims of Gun Violence" law, stakes out new territory. It would allow the state Attorney General and private citizens to sue gun manufacturers, dealers or marketers for violating nuisance laws by marketing guns to minors, for instance, or knowingly selling to a "straw purchaser" who hands off firearms to people prohibited from possessing them.

While federal legislation shields the gun industry from civil suits in federal court, states can pass their own laws holding the industry accountable. Both New York and Connecticut have already done so. Last year, the families of nine victims in the Sandy Hook school shooting settled a lawsuit for $73 million against Remington, the maker of the AR-15-style rifle used in that massacre.

Disappointingly, House Bill 1240, which seeks to restrict the sale of assault weapons, has been significantly weakened from its original version with a new clause that permits dealers and manufacturers to ship guns to out-of-state buyers. That allows for the possibility that someone planning an attack in Washington could receive their assault rifle in Idaho and simply step over the state line to use it. While the gun lobby may object, this clause should be struck.

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No law can guarantee against a massacre. But those moving through the Legislature would hold the industry accountable for the harm done with its products as never before, similar to the ways civil suits forced Big Pharma to answer for its role in the opioid crisis.

With ever more citizens shattered by gun violence, and a majority of legislators endorsing new muscle in combating it, Washington is poised to model a major culture shift, rejecting the belief that there are no answers.

This American Opinion editorial is the view of the Seattle Times Editorial Board. Send feedback to:

(c)2023 The Seattle Times. Visit The Seattle Times at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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