BURIEN – Gov. Jay Inslee today signed an executive order that launches a statewide public health initiative to reduce and prevent gun-related fatalities and injuries.
The order uses the same data-driven approach that has significantly reduced motor vehicle deaths over the past two decades. The initiative will help the state understand the people and places most at risk of gun violence or suicide, determine the best approaches to reducing gun violence and work with its partners to develop strategies and actions to prevent gun violence.
“This will be a data-driven approach that helps us identify the people and places most susceptible to gun crime and suicide,” Inslee said. “Gun crime is a scourge that has scarred thousands of families in every corner of our state. It’s a scourge we can, should and will help prevent.”
Between 2012 and 2014, an annual average of 665 people died in Washington state from firearm injuries per year, compared to 497 deaths from automobile accidents per year, according to the Department of Health Department of Vital Statistics. Approximately 80 percent of the firearm deaths were suicides.
Inslee emphasized the importance of state and local action since Congress has failed repeatedly to take even the most modest of steps.
“I’ve watched Congress fail for years to make any kind of progress on this issue,” Inslee said. “Congress has passed laws prohibiting even basic research and data collection on gun violence in America. Yet, while Congress protects the status quo of everyday gun violence, cities, counties and states are moving forward with sensible policies to reduce firearm fatalities. As long as I’m governor, Washington will be one of those states that says ‘enough is enough.’”
Inslee credited King County Executive Dow Constantine for launching a similar initiative in King County. County public health leaders voiced their support for Inslee’s executive action.
“To address the unacceptably high number of people affected by gun violence—with more deaths in Washington state and Spokane County attributed to firearms than motor vehicle crashes—as with any significant threat to the public’s health, we need a comprehensive approach,” said Dr. Joel McCullough, Spokane Regional Health District’s health officer. “We need to track the threat, find its root causes, use the science to find gaps, offer public education, and perhaps most paramount, create public policy solutions to address the threat.”
Inslee’s order requires the Department of Health and the Department of Social and Health Services, in collaboration with the University of Washington and other state and local agencies to collect, review and disseminate data on deaths and injury hospitalizations related to firearms, as well as recommend strategies to reduce firearm-related fatalities and serious injuries.
Inslee said he also wants to further strengthen the background check law approved by Washingtonians in 2014. He is directing the state Office of Financial Management to analyze the effectiveness of information sharing between state agencies, the courts, local jurisdictions, law enforcement and other entities to determine if there are ways to improve the effectiveness of the system. He is also requesting the Attorney General’s office to analyze current enforcement practices to make sure those attempting to purchase a firearm illegally are held accountable.
He is also asking them to update a 2007 white paper regarding access to firearms for those with mental illness. The white paper included recommendations that have yet to be implemented such as a centralized background check system.
Inslee is directing agencies to submit recommendations by October of 2016.
Inslee is also directing the Department of Health to implement the Statewide Suicide Prevention Plan, in collaboration with the Governor’s Health Leadership team, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and other partners. Current data indicates that Indian Americans, Alaska Natives and veterans are among the highest-risk groups for suicide.
“The problem of gun violence in our community and only be solved by the coordinated efforts of groups that are willing to work together toward this common goal,” said King County Sheriff John Urquhart. “I am very pleased to see Governor Inslee taking a leadership role to help make this happen.”