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On Oct. 14, 2017, my grandson, Edgar, was shot and killed by his close friend.
Edgar was just 13 years old. So was the friend who shot him in the chest and face after he found a loaded shotgun in his grandfather’s room at their home in Kelso.
My grandson’s friend was sentenced to five months in juvenile custody and charged with second-degree manslaughter for this tragic accident. The boy’s grandfather — the adult who irresponsibly left his gun loaded in the corner of his bedroom, with the safety off, and easily accessible to anyone—faced no charges at all.
During the trial, he testified that he had told his grandchildren not to touch his gun. But he took no further steps to keep them from accessing his gun.
Before Edgar was killed, I didn’t realize gun owners could be so negligent about child safety. I also wasn’t aware that in Washington state, almost nothing could be done to hold gun owners accountable for irresponsibly storing their firearms.
Initiative 1639 changed that. The comprehensive gun violence prevention measure, which passed last November with nearly 60 percent of the vote, will incentivize people to securely store their firearms by holding irresponsible gun owners accountable if a child or other legally prohibited person accesses and uses their gun to cause harm.
In recent days, law enforcement officials across the state have come out publicly against the initiative, claiming they will refuse to enforce this life-saving measure. One of those officials is Cowlitz County Sheriff Brad Thurman who was one of the investigators in my grandson’s case. Sheriff Thurman testified during Edgar’s trial. He witnessed the most tragic and painful experience my family has ever been through and he saw firsthand how important this law is.
Much of law enforcement’s opposition is based on misconceptions or misunderstandings about the law. One of the most common untruths being repeated is that Initiative 1639 asks law enforcement officers to enter people’s homes to check if their firearms are locked up. That is simply not true.
Initiative 1639 intentionally does not prescribe specific storage methods because secure storage will look different from house to house. Instead, it encourages gun owners to take reasonable steps to keep their guns from falling into the wrong hands.
Twenty-seven states and Washington, D.C. currently have similar laws in place. States with access prevention laws in place for at least one year saw a 23 percent drop in unintentional firearm deaths among children under the age of 15.
In the United States, eight children are unintentionally killed or injured by an unsecured firearm in their homes every day. And in Washington state, over 60 percent of gun-owning households do not store their firearms locked and unloaded.
Initiative 1639 can make a real difference in changing gun owners behavior while respecting that each home is unique. Regardless of the basis of law enforcement’s opposition, one thing is clear, we elect and appoint law enforcement leaders to enforce the law, not to decide which laws to enforce based on their interpretation or personal feelings about any specific law.
I voted for Initiative 1639 because I don’t want any family to have to go through what mine did. Initiative 1639 will help make sure they don’t, but only if all our law enforcement officials commit to implementing and enforcing Initiative 1639.
I ask Sheriff Thurman and law enforcement across the state to put aside their personal disagreements and help prevent other families from experiencing the same pain and tragedy mine did.
Alliance for Gun Responsibility, volunteer