Keeping Kids Safe: Support for Initiative 1639

Kerry Harthcock, MD, FAAP
Trustee, Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics

I am sure you have been there. One drink in and the group has successfully bypassed talking about our President but has landed on firearm safety and the senseless killings occurring in our schools. The group quickly polarizes into two groups: firearms owners protecting their 2nd Amendment rights as they see them and the gun-fearful afraid that every firearm represents the potential for murder. Both groups echo the emotions of fear and need for security. By the second drink, good points are made by both groups.

Then there emerges a third group, a few brave souls attempting to reach some compromise. This group recognizes the rights of Americans to bear arms, and they recognize the harm that the wrong people can cause with a loaded firearm and particularly assault weapons. They believe that if you own a firearm, that ownership comes with an implied obligation to protect access of that weapon from those who should not have access. Heads begin to nod as gun safety points are discussed. Is there hope for a compromise in favor of gun safety?

In the spirit of this compromise comes Initiative Measure Number 1639 (I-1639), the “public safety and semiautomatic assault rifle act.” This strongly worded initiative continues to polarize those from both camps against any form of compromise. A closer look at the exact wording of this initiative and you will see why many organizations including the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (WCAAP) are supporting this initiative. In an attempt to keep guns and semi-automatic assault weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them, I-1639 proposes enhanced background checks to include checking for mental illness. It also proposes that pistols and semi-automatic assault rifles should not be sold to those under the age of 21 years. This is a highly debated topic among adolescent neurodevelopmentalists and 2nd Amendment purists as an 18-year-old can be drafted and fight in the US military with a firearm including assault weapons. This topic affects more than the 2nd Amendment and continues to be debated.

The heart of I-1639 is gun safety and this is spelled out in the sections dealing with secure gun storage and trigger locks. Many opponents of this initiative fear that if a properly stored weapon is stolen by an inappropriate person and used inappropriately to harm or threaten someone else, the owner of the weapon can be held liable for community endangerment. The wording of the initiative speaks to the implied responsibility of the gun owner to keep his/her weapons out of inappropriate hands. I feel the wording of I-1639 actually protects those gun owners who follow safe gun storage, including the use of trigger locks.

Voters must read the wording of I-1639 for themselves and make up their own minds. It is comforting to me to know that the WCAAP has done just that and stepped up to help protect children and adolescents from illegal use of firearms and to make our schools and communities safer.

Editor’s note: Seattle Children’s offers an informative Q&A with chief medical officer, Dr. Mark Del Beccaro, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s investigator Dr. Fred Rivara about firearm safety and advice on how providers can discuss this controversial topic with their patients and families: