Our students show us the way
By Jean Godden
One of the most urgent pieces of unfinished business before this nation is an imperative to do something about gun violence. Our gruesome summer of mass shootings has intensified pressure on Congress and especially on congressional Republicans to take up gun safety legislation.
There is widespread agreement that we must act to stop this constant carnage. Nor should we allow mealy-mouthed politicos to offer "thoughts and prayers" before they place blame on video games and mental illness.
These convenient scapegoats -- mental illness and video games -- may figure marginally in some crimes. But, far and away, the main culprit remains easy availability of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines that increase the number of rounds that can be fired. In the Dayton, Ohio, shooting, Connor Betts used an assault rifle fitted with a 100-round drum magazine to kill nine and injure 27 in just 32 seconds.
Time and again President Trump has appeared to show some interest in gun safety laws, only to pull back when pressured by NRA officials. Playing the same game are gatekeepers like Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell who says he won't submit any gun control measures unless they meet with President Trump's approval.
There has been some bipartisan discussion of gun safety measures in Congress but, as usual, the lawmakers' resolve diminishes over time. Some retreat to dubious solutions like arming teachers or a mandatory death penalty.
Although we see inertia at the highest levels, there is still reason to hope. That hope rests squarely with our young people. It is these energized youth who have taken increasingly large, responsible roles in the national fight against gun violence. They have taken on the struggle that many of their elders have neglected.
First to step up were activist survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed and 17 injured. Parkland students responded by organizing the March for Our Lives held in Washington and have continued to push for action.
This crusade has spread to other youth groups. Recently it was West Seattle high school students calling for change. There is a very personal connection for West Seattle students. Recalling last January's lockdown at the school, they have formed a Gun Violence Prevention Club and are pushing students to speak out, educate others and to provide their viewpoints to lawmakers.
In our state, there has been progress. With active help from local youth, Initiative 1639 got 60 percent state voter approval. The initiative took effect July 1, along with 10 related gun control bills. The state now has laws designed to keep weapons out of the hands of domestic abusers and people with mental health issues, as well requiring ownership storage requirements and enhanced background checks for owners of semi-automatic assault rifles. Minimum age requirement for the semi-automatic rifles was raised to 21.
This is not to suggest that what our state has accomplished is sufficient. More can and should be done. It is hoped that the youths' resolve will not flag, that they will keep pressing. Our lawmakers need to look at other gun safety measures such as a ban on those high-capacity magazines.
The national scene is far grimmer. Can young people and right-thinking citizens make progress with spineless lawmakers in the other Washington? Or must we campaign to replace those who do little or nothing? The issue for these enlightened young people, as well as for the rest of us, is to act now. For any of us in the wrong place (a school, nightclub, church, synagogue or Walmart) this mission is vital. It could be a matter of life or death.