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Today’s tragic shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School elicits the sadness and outrage that every story of gun violence at our schools does. And it’s magnified by the horrific fact that school shootings have become so common in America, with 87 since Newtown alone.

While it is not yet known how the Marysville shooter obtained the handgun used to attack his fellow students, the incident raises the important question of how access to firearms is regulated in the United States. After Newtown, Congress failed to pass a universal background checks bill, and the gun violence prevention movement shifted its focus to enacting smart gun laws at the state level.

In Washington State, where Marysville-Pilchuck High School is located, two competing initiatives are on the ballot this November that deal with background checks. One initiative, I-594, requires private sellers to conduct background checks on private purchasers of firearms. The Law Center is proud to have offered guidance to the group that drafted the bill, the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, by providing them with our model law and sharing research and legal analysis.

If passed, Washington’s new law (I-594) will:

  • Require unlicensed sellers to conduct a sale through a licensed firearms dealer who will perform a background check on the buyer
  • Ensure that a licensed dealer keeps a record of the private transaction

In addition to keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and dangerous individuals with mental illness, universal background check laws also keep guns from being sold to criminals. “Background checks are the most critical tool a state has to keep its residents safe from gun violence,” said Law Center staff attorney Allison Anderman, who has been following the ballot initiative closely. “These laws are also overwhelmingly supported by the American public.”

privatesales-1-FINAL Over 30,000 Americans die each year from gun violence. That’s nearly five times the number of American soldiers killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Many of these deaths could be prevented by ensuring that guns don’t fall into the hands of prohibited persons. These people aren’t legally allowed to own a gun, but loopholes make it far too easy for them to get one, and too often this ends in tragedy.

The other gun measure on the ballot in Washington, I-591, is supported by the NRA and does the exact opposite of I-594—it will prohibit “requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required.” The Law Center believes that this dangerous measure will continue to make it far too simple for criminals and potentially violent people to gain access to guns.

While we don’t yet know if a universal background checks law would have prevented the Marysville shooting, it is clear that smarter gun laws will reduce gun violence and save lives. Americans support commonsense solutions to the epidemic of gun violence in this country, and we hope that Washington voters will adopt universal background checks.

Should I-594 pass, Washington will be one of nine states, plus D.C., with laws requiring background checks on private sales at the point of transfer. An additional eight states require background checks when an individual applies for a permit to purchase a firearm.

Everyone at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is saddened and troubled by today’s heartbreaking shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. Our thoughts are with the victims, their families, and the entire Marysville community.

Learn more about the importance of universal background checks at smartgunlaws.org/universal-gun-background-checks-policy-summary.

And stay tuned this fall for the next of our Commonsense Solutions toolkits, developed in partnership with Americans for Responsible Solutions, which will focus on background checks.