GUEST COMMENTARY: Vote Yes on I-1639: Safer communities

By Paula Barnes

In Washington, it’s easier to buy a semi-automatic assault rifle than a handgun.

Initiative 1639 applies the same restrictions to semi-automatic rifles that already exist for handguns: It raises the age of purchase from 18 to 21 and it strengthens background checks.

I-1639 establishes a 10-day cooling-off period before the purchase of a semi-automatic weapon, which gives local law enforcement enough time to complete the background check.

It requires the buyer of a semi-automatic rifle to show proof that a firearms safety course was completed within the past five years.

I-1639 incentivizes secure firearms storage by holding gun owners accountable if a child or other prohibited person accesses and uses their gun to harm themselves or others, and it includes safety awareness provisions to ensure buyers are aware of firearms ownership risks.

Contrary to anti-1639 claims, this initiative does not violate the rights of military personnel of any age. Existing law (RCW 9.41.060) exempts military service members, who, by the way, receive extensive weapons training.

Another persistent no-on-1639 falsehood is that buyers of semi-automatic assault rifles must relinquish medical privacy rights. The existing background check for handguns requires law enforcement to determine if a prospective buyer is ineligible because of an involuntary commitment. I-1639 extends this same requirement to buyers of semi-automatic rifles. (RCW 9.41.040 2C iv)

Gun rights extremists claim we are safer when armed. The truth: The U.S. has about six times the gun homicide rate of Canada, seven times that of Sweden and 16 times that of Germany. The U.S. also has, per capita, the most privately owned guns in the world. In 2017, U.S. civilians owned 120.5 guns per 100 residents, more firearms than people. A recent study shows after adjusting for such variables as socioeconomic factors and other crime, places with more guns have more gun deaths, including homicides, suicides, domestic violence and violence against police. Clearly, more armed citizens do not increase public safety. (Source: Vox “America is one of 6 countries that make up more than half of gun deaths worldwide.”)

No-on-1639 proponents recently threw out a red herring by suggesting that, according to FBI statistics, in spite of stronger gun laws California had 54,789 robberies in 2016. This is nonsense. California is the most populous state, and the relevant statistic is 139.6 robberies per 100,000 people. Compare this to Nevada, with its looser gun laws, at 215.6 robberies per 100,000. (

More from the anti-1639 folks: “guns are what give us power in the first place.” Seriously? That may be true for banana republics, but here in the U.S., our strength comes from our people, talents and hard work, our educational, cultural and religious institutions, and, above all else, the rule of law.

Semi-automatic rifles are designed to kill as many people as possible as fast as possible. I-1639 applies the same reasonable restrictions on these deadly firearms that already exist for handguns.

This summer while collecting signatures to put I-1639 on the ballot, I met countless gun owners who enthusiastically signed the petition. They understood this initiative simply requires gun owners to balance rights with responsibilities.

Gun-proliferation promoters consistently oppose any strengthening of gun laws, ignoring the public health crisis, facts and data. They seemingly consider senseless loss of life, including children, the price we must all pay for their resistance to reasonable gun laws. They intertwine gun culture with patriotism. But they are in the minority.

There are many more of us who have seen too many school shootings, read too many stories of toddlers shooting a sibling, and heard too many thoughts and prayers. Enough is enough. Reject their baseless arguments and vote yes on I-1639.


Paula Barnes lives in Sequim and has been a volunteer with the Alliance for Gun Responsibility since 2014. She is currently a local organizer for the Yes on 1639 campaign.

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