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Originally published Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 4:54 PM

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Hopeful progress on gun violence and homelessness

A campaign to expand background checks on all firearm sales, and smart, data-driven efforts to rehouse homeless families are reasons for optimism, writes columnist Lance Dickie.

Times editorial columnist

No comments have been posted to this article.


If one is looking for reasons to be optimistic at the close of 2013, gun violence and homelessness would not spring to mind. But positive stirrings are evident as the year concludes.

Twelve months after the slaughter in Newtown, Conn., and the mall shooting outside Portland, Ore., and days after shootings in Colorado and Nevada, Washington residents have an opportunity to fundamentally expand public safety here.

Initiative 594 would apply criminal and public-safety background checks for firearm sales and transfers to all transactions, including private sales, and those sold at gun shows and online.

All private sales and transfers — with four exceptions — would have to go through the same process used by licensed gun dealers, who would do the checks.

This initiative effort must collect 325,000 signatures by Jan. 4 so the state Legislature can be asked to pass the citizens’ initiative into law. If lawmakers in Olympia refuse, the measure would go on the ballot next November.

A lot of motivated people are intent on putting I-594 before legislators, or proceeding to the statewide ballot, if necessary.

Earlier this month, the annual dinner of Faith Action Network was held at Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle. The keynote speaker was Nick Hanauer, co-founder of Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which backs I-594

The theme of the event was Beyond Violence — A Time for Peace. Hanauer reported that 200 faith groups and congregations around the state have endorsed I-594.

Hanauer sees the contagion of guns in society as a byproduct of insecurity, anger, mistrust and violence, which are roused in part by economic inequities. They are moral and cultural issues to be confronted, he told more than 400 people.

A first step on that journey is one of elemental public safety. Screen all firearm transactions through criminal and safety checks.

The initiative provides exceptions for gifts between immediate family members, antiques and relics, temporary transfers for self-defense and loans for lawful hunting or sporting activities.

As I-594 proponents note, routing all transactions through licensed gun dealers is hardly a logistical challenge: 98 percent of Washingtonians live within 10 miles of a dealer. The state has more licensed gun dealers than U.S. post offices.

One can expect the lucrative howl of gun-rights advocates who have a knack for sounding alarms and raising money. Want some real credibility? Take a deep breath and support a basic effort to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them.

The Second Amendment is not impaired any more than the First Amendment is trumped by libel and slander protections — or restrictions on private property that exist to limit fire and health hazards for other property owners.

With I-594, background checks may well prevent innocent blood from being spilled.

Vulnerability of another sort is being addressed by a pilot program through King County called Rapid Rehousing for Families. The $3.1 million effort is encouraging on many levels.

The goal is to move hundreds of homeless families quickly off the streets, out of shelters and back into permanent housing as briskly as possible.

Families lose incomes, suffer huge medical expenses, emotional traumas, episodes of domestic violence and substance abuse that can land them on the streets.

But studies have shown, and organizations such as Building Changes, Catholic Community Services, United Way of King County, the YWCA, and the city and county housing departments have studied the data to confirm that focused help saves families.

Point families back toward employment and education, help them briefly with the rent, and the core resilience of family life shines through.

Help make Washington a better place to live in 2014. Support the expansion of background checks for all firearm sales and transfers with I-594.

Applaud the informed use of social-service resources to rehouse families and help them help themselves.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is

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