Health district resolution asks for action on reducing gun violence
EVERETT - While legislators in Olympia are working on gun control legislation in response to recent gun violence, the Snohomish Health District wants the public health impacts of that violence to be part of the conversation.
The Snohomish Health District is asking its board to ask legislators to take serious action on reducing gun violence and to adequately fund mental health services, which are lacking in Snohomish County.
Senate Democrats introduced at least seven gun control and mental health bills, including a bill requiring universal background checks on all firearm purchases.
The health district is weighing in because it’s a public health matter to reduce suicides, homicides and accidental deaths, district health officer Dr. Gary Goldbaum said last week.
In Snohomish County from 2007 to 2011, 238 people died from gun violence — an overwhelming majority were suicides — and 110 people were hospitalized for nonfatal gun-related injuries.
Goldbaum said he has no personal agenda. He’s asking the board to address this now because he thinks public opinion is changing on guns and he’s looking to prevent deaths, he said.
“This is simply another (public health) issue,” like whooping cough, he said. “It’s killing people in the community and injuring people in the community.”
“Twenty years ago, there was real reluctance to consider the issue,” Goldbaum said. The recent school shooting in Connecticut was a watershed teaching moment, he said.
The 15-member board of health did not take action at last week’s meeting due to a lack of quorum. Goldbaum said the resolution is still on the table for next month’s meeting on March 12.
If it passes, Goldbaum hopes to package the district’s resolution with other districts’ resolutions to send off to legislators. Public Health Seattle-King County and a health district in Eastern Washington reportedly passed similar resolutions so far, Snohomish Health District officials said.
Snohomish gun owner Nathan Shelby, who came to the health board meeting last week, said the health district doesn’t have any business asking for gun control.
The district is saying guns are bad but tacking on mental health to the resolution to make it fit with health issues, Shelby said.
Goldbaum said gun violence is a public health concern.
“Suicides and homicides tend to be among younger people. That’s why it’s drawing attention from public health,” Goldbaum said.
The New York Times reported Feb. 13 that 20,000 to 30,000 gun deaths in 2010 were suicides according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among teenagers, suicide is the third-leading cause of death.
Suicidal attempts with guns are fatal 85 percent of the time, while attempts with pills are fatal 2 percent, according to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, reported by The New York Times.
The Democrats’ bills include universal background checks on all firearm purchases, adding harsher penalties for letting children under 12 access guns in the home and widening the criteria for the mental health system to hold, assess and treat offenders charged with a crime. The other bills ask to accelerate widening the parameters for involuntarily committing someone with mental health issues, give courts discretion in gun restoration rights for people who have been involuntarily committed to mental health services, and let people temporarily surrender their guns to police.
Washington state has comparatively good tracking controls that keep guns out of the hands of mental health patients, felons and dangerous people ineligible to have firearms, a 2011 national report found. Washington ranked second best in the country for documenting people for federal background checks in a report by the national gun control group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
The report was prompted by the 2011 Tucson shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by gunman Jared Lee Loughner, who passed background checks despite his drug abuse history. A Washington Post article reported former Arizona Attorney General Janet Reno prohibited military applicants’ drug use from being reported as a red flag for FBI gun registration reporting. Loughner was denied entry into the military because of his drug abuse history. Arizona’s law circumvented federal law prohibiting drug abusers from obtaining guns.
Washington’s records keeping system is integrated into the court system and compiles mental health records into a state repository. A state law requires searching mental health records before issuing concealed carry licenses and allowing gun purchases at licensed dealers. Private sales do not require a background check.
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