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Originally published July 13, 2014 at 8:09 PM | Page modified July 15, 2014 at 1:58 PM

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Until we act on gun laws, we can’t move on from tragedies

Keep gun-control momentum alive for the vote on Initiative 594.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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You can’t kill a stranger with a gun if you don’t have one. You can’t kill a relative, and you can’t kill a gang rival and you can’t kill yourself with a gun if you don’t have one. You may find some other way to do it, but guns are a most effective killing tool and one that doesn’t offer much service outside of doing bodily injury.

Most people know that and even support some controls on who has access to the weapons, but despite that we don’t seem able to get to the kind of effective control that could spare us most of the thousands of gun deaths the country suffers each year.

We’re temporarily shocked by reminders of the carnage; then we, the public, move on. We need to keep our eyes on the bloodshed long enough to do something about it. And in Washington state we’ll have a chance to take an important step in that direction in November when Initiative 594 will be on the ballot.

Between now and then, we need to keep in mind tragedies like the Seattle Pacific University shootings, the periodic shootings in Seattle’s Rainier Valley and the shootings at Café Racer and at the Jewish Federation. And maybe especially we should remind ourselves that most shootings happen without so much public attention.

Can we do that? I don’t know, but I think it’s important that we try.

Last week The Seattle Times reported that Aaron Ybarra, the man who shot three people at SPU last month, killing one of them, had access to eight guns until three disappeared in 2011. The three missing guns include an AK-47, a gun that comes with a 30-shot magazine and can accommodate a magazine that holds 100 rounds.

Maybe you remember that Ybarra’s shooting spree was interrupted because he had to pause to reload his shotgun. If he’d had the AK-47, the tragedy could have been much worse.

That gun is out there in the hands of someone who may not be a responsible gun owner. We are told responsible gun owners need to be protected from laws that would steal their constitutional rights. What does responsible ownership of an AK-47 look like, and why is it worth the potential risks?

Ybarra didn’t own all the guns he had access to, and neither did the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, whose actions for a moment seemed sure to move the country toward tougher gun-control laws. Guns don’t always stay in responsible hands.

Speculation is that the AK-47 was taken by a person who may have sold it for drugs. It’s out there somewhere unaccounted for.

But we can track more guns than we do now, and that’s what the initiative is about.

It calls for universal background checks when guns change hands, whether it’s a sale or a family member borrowing a gun, and makes failure to have a check done a crime. It’s a small step that we ought to take.

We need some momentum to move us to where Australia went after a massacre in 1996. Australian states coordinated their gun-control laws and adopted universal background checks and a 28-day waiting period for purchases. They outlawed most semi-automatic rifles and created a system that links their gun-registration systems, so a person who doesn’t qualify for a gun license can’t get a gun just by going to another state. Gun deaths have fallen by about two-thirds.

Maybe it will take an even bigger massacre to get us to act, but I hope not, because the killing and dying is mostly done in smaller numbers and not by mass shooters.

Chicago got attention recently because several individual shootings added up to a number large enough to make national news — 82 people shot and 14 killed over Independence Day weekend. Action on gun control shouldn’t depend on drama.

Across the country, the majority of gun deaths are suicides, and you will rarely hear about those. Most of the rest of the deaths and injuries are from domestic violence or gang incidents.

Most Americans are more at risk from what we choose to eat. But we shouldn’t tolerate more than 30,000 deaths a year when controlling the instrument that facilitates those deaths (and thousands of injuries) could prevent many of them without harming anyone.

Let’s not continue to pay in lives for our delay in controlling access to guns.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays. | 206-464-3346

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