Seattle, Washington is closing in on 30 homicides so far this year, well above the ten-year average of 26.4 murders over the course of a 12-month period. On Sunday, four people were killed and six others wounded in five separate shootings across the city, and in addition to the increase in homicides, aggravated assaults and robberies are also soaring above last year’s already elevated levels.
Given the deep-blue tint of Seattle politics, it shouldn’t come as a shock that elected Democrats are placing the blame for the increased violence on the availability of firearms. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, for example, says inaction in Washington, D.C. is fueling Seattle’s crime wave.
The Seattle Democrat said her colleagues in the House of Representatives have passed legislation that could help quell gun violence, including universal background checks and closing loopholes in background checks for those who want to buy assault weapons. But the measures have died once they made it to the U.S. Senate, which currently has a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats, meaning 10 members of the GOP would have to side with Democrats to move some proposals forward to end a filibuster if someone mounted a challenge.
There’s only one problem with Jayapal’s theory: Washington State already has universal background check laws and restrictions on so-called assault weapons in place. It’s been three years since voters in the state approved I-1639, a sweeping gun control referendum that imposed numerous new restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms:
Effective January 1, 2019 the new law
- Makes it illegal for a person under 21 years of age to buy a semiautomatic assault rifle.
- Makes it illegal for any person to sell or transfer a semiautomatic assault rifle to a person under age 21.
- Allows a person between the ages of 18 and 21 to possess a semiautomatic assault rifle:
- In the person’s residence or fixed place of business;
- On real property under his or her control;
- When engaging in, or travel to or from, a lawful outdoor recreational activity;
- When engaging in target shooting at an established, authorized range; or
- If the semiautomatic assault rifle is unloaded and either in secure gun storage or secured with a trigger lock for the specific purpose of (i) moving to a new residence; (ii) traveling between the person’s residence and real property under his or her control; or (iii) legally selling or transferring the firearm.
All of the other provisions in the law take effect on July 1, 2019 including:
- Enhanced background check and waiting period requirements for the purchase or transfer of semiautomatic assault rifles. Click here for more information on background checks.
- Training requirements to purchase a semiautomatic assault rifle. Click here for more information on training requirements.
- Criminal liability for failure to safely secure a firearm under certain conditions. Click here for more information on storage requirements.
- Safety warning and safe storage requirements for dealers. Click here for more information on storage requirements for dealers.
Additionally, universal background checks have been mandated under Washington state law since 2014. It’s worth noting that in 2014, the state’s homicide rate was 2.5 per 100,000 people. Since the law took effect, the homicide rate has bounced around a bit, but it’s never been as low as it was before universal background checks were put in place, and in 2020 the state’s homicide rate spiked by more than 40-percent.
As the National Rifle Association pointed out on Monday, a new crime report by the state’s police chiefs and sheriffs show a steady increase in most crime categories over the past few years, but despite Jayapal’s theory about “assault weapons,” they’re not being used in many crimes at all.
Contrary to the claims made in promoting the restrictions on “semi-automatic assault rifles,” the reports establish that rifles of any kind are rarely used in murders in the state, and this has consistently been the case before I-1639 was approved. In, rifles were identified as the weapon in just three murders that year, compared to knives (28), blunt objects (12), and “personal weapons” like hands, fists or feet (11). Knives, personal weapons, and blunt objects continue to exceed, by a large margin, the use of rifles in murders for every year since. In , for example, rifles were used in two murders, while knives (45), drugs/narcotics (7), personal weapons (17), blunt objects (9), and even vehicles (3) were much more likely to be the weapon of choice. This trend continues into 2020.
Another useful indicator is the movement of the state’s crime rates. The WASPC reports show that the rate for “crimes against persons” (those where the victim is always an individual, like homicides, sex crimes, assaults, and violations of protective orders) has increased from 10.15/1,000 pop. in 2013 to over 13.0 in succeeding years. The rate for what the reports call “group A” crimes, a much broader class that includes the above offenses as well as burglary, kidnapping, property crimes, and others, has been climbing, too, since the first initiative was enacted. In addition to these escalations, thecontains a further worrisome sign: while violent crimes overall dropped during the pandemic year compared to 2019, the number of murders statewide in 2020 jumped by almost 50% over those of the previous year.
I-1639 was billed as a way to make Washington State safer, and clearly it’s failed to live up to the promises of the gun control activists who spent millions promoting the referendum back in 2018. Washington State residents are less safe now than they were before they approved that gun control package. Americans should learn from Washington’s example; restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms may offer the illusion of safety, particularly to those who don’t own any firearms, but their real impact is felt by responsible gun owners and not the violent criminals who are the supposed target.