No to Kirkland Endorsing I-1639

Updated: Oct 9, 2018

Kirkland City Councilmember Toby Nixon speaks against a resolution to endorse a statewide gun control initiative.

The Kirkland City Council tonight considered a resolution endorsing Initiative 1639 (gun control). The resolution passed 6-1. You can guess who was the No vote. Here's what I said during the debate:

Thank you, Mayor. As you know, from time to time I like to demonstrate that our council is not unanimous on everything, and this is one of those times.

We all want our community to be safe and to reduce crime and violence. We all want to see effective measures taken to protect our children in school and elsewhere. We have worked together with many people in our community to identify measures we can take to help achieve that goal. We’ve put some of those things on the ballot this November in Proposition 1. But I don’t think Initiative 1639 is the right approach.

I strongly support holding people accountable for unsafe storage of firearms that results in their being accessed by children or others who should not have them, that then results in injury. I note that the existing state reckless endangerment law has been used in the past for that purpose. That law could be amended to make it clearer that it also applies to improper storage of firearms that results in injury, and there’s not really a need for an entirely new law. I especially do not agree with the initiative's proposal to hold gun owners criminally responsible when a burglar steals their gun from their home and uses it to commit a crime -- that responsibility should be 100% on the criminal, not the law-abiding gun owner.

I believe the initiative's definition of semiautomatic assault rifle is too broad, misleading and inflammatory. An "assault rifle" is one that can be switched between automatic and semiautomatic fire, and using those words causes people to visualize a machine gun -- but machine guns are already illegal. The definition of “semiautomatic assault rifle” in the initiative is inconsistent with federal law. The language in the initiative would treat simple 22-caliber plinker rifles, like the ones used to shoot cans off a fence post or for target shooting at Boy Scout Camp, the same as AR-15s, and I think that's unreasonable.

The initiative talks about domestic violence and how guns can be used by abusers in domestic violence situations. But we must keep in mind that domestic violence protection orders do not actually protect anyone from assault. If someone has been threatened with domestic violence, fears for their life, and wants a gun to protect themselves, we should not be telling them that they must first take a training course and wait 10 full business days to get it. Our police do a great job, but they cannot be everywhere at once. They are not able to stand by constantly to keep an abuser away from their intended victim. It is an oft-stated fact that when seconds count, the police are just minutes away. The proposed fixed 10 business day waiting period has no exceptions for documented extreme need, and could cost people their lives. If someone has a clean background check, especially if they also have a domestic violence protective order in hand, they should not have to wait a full 10 business days to receive the firearm that they have a constitutional right to possess.

We already have a very strong background check law in Washington. But the initiative says the government will repeat that background check, annually or more often, for the entire life of any person who buys a covered gun. Anyone who applies waives their right to privacy of their medical records in order for these background checks to be done for the rest of their lives. Many of us believe medical privacy to be hugely important. Requiring people to waive their medical privacy for the rest of their life just because they choose to exercise a constitutionally-protected civil right is wrong.

The initiative raises the age to buy a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21, arguing that the human brain is not sufficiently developed at that age to make responsible decisions. But what else do we let people decide at age 18?

At 18, you can decide whether or not to marry someone, a truly monumental decision of great consequence.

At 18, you can make the decision to join the military and put yourself at risk of dying to defend your country.

At 18, you can make every single decision about your medical care. Some medical decisions can be made at an even younger age despite having life-altering implications.

At 16, you can be licensed to drive a vehicle, which is a continuous danger to far more people than any firearm carried for self-defense.

At 18, we consider your brain to be developed enough to sign a contract to buy a car and go into debt to do so.

At 18, we consider you to have clear enough thinking to register to vote and to vote on issues such as taking away people's civil rights. Some folks here now would like to see that age reduced to 16 while simultaneously arguing that the brain is not developed enough to make good decisions.

At 18, you can serve on a jury, and make life-altering decisions about other people, up to and including whether they should receive the death penalty.

At 18, if you're simply registered to vote and live in Kirkland, you are legally eligible to serve as a member of this city council. If you have the mental capacity to do what we do here at this dais, then surely you have the mental capacity to carry a firearm in self defense.

We as a society have agreed that the brain of an 18 year old is developed enough to make all of these monumental decisions, including decisions that have a huge impact on other people. And yet this initiative proposes to strip away a constitutionally-protected civil right from people who are 18, 19, and 20, claiming that their brains are not developed enough.

I have many other concerns with the initiative, but I've said enough.

We should not infringe the constitutionally-protected civil rights of the 99% of people who never misuse a firearm, to try to stop the less than 1% who do.

I often recommend that the council not take a position on initiatives, and that is my recommendation once again. As difficult as it would be in front of a sea of orange, I ask you to vote No on the resolution.

Toby Nixon has served on the Kirkland City Council since 2012. He has also served as President of Washington Coalition for Open Government since 2007, and previously served as Fire District Commissioner in 2009. In 2002 he served in the Washington House of Representatives on the House Committee for State Government Operations and Accountability. Toby was keynote speaker at LPKC's first convention in 2017 and is an active proponent of liberty and smaller government in our community.