Opinion editorial by Rep. Terry Nealey: Gun initiative may harness law-abiding citizens, but won’t stop criminals

We have all been horrified by gun violence at theaters, malls, schools and town hall meetings. As a former prosecuting attorney/county coroner, I have also witnessed the tragic aftermath of violence. We all want it to end. But how?

Last year, numerous gun-control bills, including a universal background check measure, were introduced in the Legislature. These bills attracted the testimony of both gun-control and gun-rights advocates. The background checks measure was so divisive that, although it passed a committee, it failed to come to a vote on the House floor. This set up a showdown between the two groups. Each side collected signatures on two diametrically-opposing initiatives. Although these measures qualified for the ballot, they were sent to the Legislature for possible consideration.

Initiative 594 would establish universal background checks on all gun transfers in Washington. Initiative 591 would prevent the state from adopting universal background checks during gun sales.

I solidly support the second amendment of the United States’ Constitution, which states, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” and Washington’s Constitution: “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired.” I am concerned Initiative 594 would impair these rights. Other reasons for my opposition to Initiative 594 include:

  • The measure would create an enormous government database containing personal information of law-abiding citizens, which makes this a de facto gun registration initiative.
  • It would impose an unenforceable and costly burden on law enforcement resources.
  • It is already a crime for felons to possess firearms or to submit false information on a background check application.
  • Supporters say it would “close a loophole” that allows people to purchase firearms at gun shows without background checks. However, gun shows are the source of less than 1 percent of firearms possessed by criminals during the commission of a crime. There is no “loophole.”
  • More than 98 percent of firearm owners are law-abiding and would likely comply. However, criminals would completely ignore the law, avoiding background checks when obtaining firearms.
  • By the time someone decides to inflict injury or death upon innocent victims by use of a firearm, that person has likely broken other laws. One more gun control law would not stop a perpetrator with evil intent.

The Legislature has three options:

1. It could adopt one or both of these initiatives as written and they would go into law without the governor’s signature;

2. The Legislature could propose its own alternative, in which case, both the original and alternative initiative are put before the people of Washington for a vote; or

3. The Legislature could decide not to take action on the initiative(s), in which case they would go to the November general election ballot for you, the voter to decide.

While there have been hearings on both initiatives, it’s becoming apparent the Legislature will take no action and allow the measures to proceed to the ballot, meaning you, the voter, will decide.

We all want our neighborhoods and communities to remain safe. Gun violence is abhorrent and there is no magic single solution to end it. Certainly, we will not stop it by harnessing the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens and removing their ability to protect themselves and those around them. Instead, we must emphasize a higher priority toward addressing the root causes of gun violence – including mental health issues, gangs and economic despair – and work harder to aggressively enforce existing laws against criminals who would do us harm.

Editor’s note: Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, serves the 16th Legislative District and is a member of the House Judiciary Committee and former Columbia County prosecuting attorney.

State Representative Terry Nealey, 16th Legislative District
404 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7828 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000