January 11, 2021 Press Releases
Washington State Legislators Must Act on Gun Responsibility in 2021 Session
In the wake of COVID-19 and heightened political violence, action on gun violence prevention is more urgent than ever.
Last week’s violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, encouraged by the President and his enablers, highlighted the very real risk posed by heightened political division and the rise in armed extremism. Washington state is no exception to these dangerous trends. The same day the pro-Trump mob occupied the U.S. Capitol, protesters, some of whom were armed, breached the gates of the Governor’s mansion for the first time in our state’s history. Members of the group threatened violence against the journalists covering the riot.
The need to act on gun violence prevention had taken on new urgency even before the traumatic events of last week. 2020 proved that one public health crisis does not stop for another. The economic and social hardships brought on by the COVID-19 crisis have exposed and exacerbated existing risks of gun violence. High-profile police shootings of Black Americans have underscored the need to address inequity and bias in our criminal justice system. At the same time, gun sales continue surging.
The devastating impacts of these trends are already clear: domestic violence homicides are spiking, community gun violence is increasing, mass shootings have broken records, armed intimidation has exploded, and experts are bracing for a rise in suicide. This violence isn’t just affecting far-flung cities and states, it is impacting our own communities here in Washington. And, as was true before the pandemic, communities of color are bearing the brunt of the gun violence epidemic.
Over the last few years, Washington state has led the nation in passing evidence-based gun violence prevention policies, enacting the strongest domestic violence protections and suicide prevention laws in the country. Last session, the legislature passed five gun responsibility bills and approved an historic $14.3 million in gun violence prevention funding.
We know that our elected officials face a daunting task ahead as they work to chart a path out of the pandemic. Gun safety must be part of that path. Our communities cannot recover from the coronavirus crisis if they are crushed by the gun violence epidemic.
This year, the legislature has the opportunity to reject intimidation through the open carry of firearms, prohibit high-capacity magazines, address racism and inequity in policing, and more. The Alliance for Gun Responsibility’s 2021 agenda reflects the pressing challenges of this moment. Highlights include:
Protect Free Speech And Reject Firearm Intimidation: The presence of firearms at political rallies, demonstrations, and protests has a chilling effect on free speech and only serves to make a situation more dangerous. Two recent protests in Olympia that ended in gunfire prove how quickly disaster can strike when firearms are involved. Open carry enables those who wish to intimidate others in a public space to do so with relative impunity. Commonsense limits on the open carry of firearms will reduce the risk of political violence in Washington state.
Restricting Access to High-Capacity Magazines: Large capacity magazines, which can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, make shootings deadlier by making it easier for a shooter to fire more rounds quickly, without pausing to reload. Whether a state allows high-capacity magazine sales is the single best predictor of the mass shooting rates in that state. Restricting access to high-capacity magazines will reduce the scope of mass shootings in our state and save lives.
Address Inequity And Biased Policing: Washington has the opportunity to, once again, set an example for the rest of the nation by passing legislation to hold police and law enforcement accountable and address inequity in the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system disproportionately harms Black and brown Washingtonians and every component of the system, including the impact of firearms and firearms laws, must be confronted and evaluated.
Protect Progress And Continue Momentum: In light of the financial, social, and political realities of COVID-19, protecting the progress we have already made in the fight against gun violence is crucial. Now more than ever, it is essential that we continue to lead the country by strengthening and protecting our effective gun safety laws. This includes closing loopholes, aligning victim protection processes, and continuing progress on the first-in-the-nation Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention and the centralization of our background check system.
Facts about gun violence in Washington state:
- A person is killed with a gun every 12 hours on average in Washington state.
- The burden of gun violence falls disproportionately on communities of color in Washington: Black people make up just 4 percent of the state’s population but approximately 20 percent of gun homicide victims.
- Suicide accounts for 75 percent of all gun deaths in the state.
- Gun violence costs Washington state $3.8 billion a year—$544 per resident.
- Firearms are the leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24 in Washington.