Nov 9, 2014

A Washington Initiative for change

The experience was surreal. A sleepy Sunday on a Seattle Downtown escalator, surrounded by people wearing NRA badges. Related to what’s happened in Washington State these past weeks, the memory comes back.
On October 24 a teenage boy shot five other teenagers and then himself in the Marysville-Pilchuck Highschool cafeteria in Snohomish County about an hour north of Seattle. Today five of the children are dead, only one survived. No, they weren’t young men or women, they were 14 and 15 year old children, three girls and two boys. Now dead by a gun. The reason for the deeply tragic shooting including relatives and members of the Tulalip Tribe will probably never be clarified. Funerals and memorial services so far have gathered thousands. 
The U.S. Mid Term Elections were held November 4. As always in a U.S election the different states are also going to the ballots about state initiatives. Which means, you give your vote pro or con a proposition which only affects your state. For example, Washington and Colorado earlier voted for legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Oregon followed in this election.
Now, on November 4 the people of Washington State were offered to vote on five ballot measures, one of them was Initiative 594, concerning background checks for firearm sales and transfers. The initiative makes sure anyone buying a gun in Washington State passes the same background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter whom they buy it from.
So, what about the experience on the Seattle Downtown escalator?
Well, it was a Sunday, I think in 1997. I had left my family in our Boyer Avenue home and took the car to Convention Center which I did three times a week to get my workout at Gold’s Gym. I would guess Trouble & Trouble were sitting at the dining room table drawing or playing with their next door friends Carel and Nick. 
I parked in the Convention Center garage and took, as always, the escalator to the gym floor. Although the Convention Center is a very public place, it is often surprisingly quiet. Not this Sunday though. A lot of people, a lot of badges. A lot of pins. I glanced at the messages. And remembered. This was the weekend for the National Rifle Association convention. I was surrounded by people who’s opinion was owning guns is more or less a human right.
Sensing the situation now I feel like I wanted to make myself as little as possible. Invisible. I was scared. I was surrounded by a culture so foreign to me I felt like I had landed on a different planet with evil aliens. Or being an extra in the escalator scene of a violent thriller.
What made the scene even more unreal was the fact there weren’t only men on the set. There were women. There were families. There were children. Children the same age as Trouble & Trouble momentary drawing at the dining room table on a slow Sunday afternoon. Children wearing pins saying “Don’t touch my gun”. It was surreal.
I feel now like that scene was in slow motion. I was at my step of the escalator standing as still as possible. Looking straight forward, glancing at the pins from the corner of my eye. Like, as if I didn’t move I wouldn’t stir the situation up and make it explosive.
Now, on November 4 Washington State voted yes on Initiative 594 and became the first state in the U.S. to close the background checks loophole by popular vote. 594 extends the currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to cover all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with reasonable exceptions. This is something to celebrate!
Some say this won’t change anything. If you want a gun you will get yourself a gun. And I’m sure that’s true. But it’s a start. It won’t bring Andrew, Nate, Zoe, Gia, Shaylee and Jaylen in Marysville back to life. And there will be more shootings, in schools, and elsewhere. But the people of Washington has made a strong mark. As the first state in the U.S. they want a change for the future.

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