The Marysville-Pilchuck High School shootings occurred as Washington voters prepared to vote on two gun initiatives.
No one argues that either of these initiatives would have prevented the school shooting, but people on both sides of the debate say the incident could still weigh on voters’ minds.
Authorities say the handgun used by freshman student Jaylen Fryberg was legally purchased, which means the owner had to pass a criminal background check. That means the expansion of background checks required by Initiative 594 would not have affected Jaylen’s access to the gun. The opposing measure, Initiative 591, would bar the state from expanding background checks beyond federal law.
About a week after the shooting, Nina Jones was one of the people making her way into the Cabela’s outdoor gear store in Marysville. Jones is a Seattle Police officer who plans to vote against expanding background checks – so no on 594, yes on 591.
“I’m all for making sure government or police are not intruding into civilians’ lives or trying to take away people’s Second Amendment rights,” she said.
Jones is familiar with the danger of gun violence – in 2011 she and a group of officers received a commendation for “their work in handling an armed man who was attempting to break into an apartment to kill the occupants,” according to an SPD report.
Jones said that since Jaylen’s handgun was reportedly purchased legally, it’s up to gun owners to make sure their firearms are secure. But she and her companion, fellow Seattle Police Officer Tony Reynolds, said they know the shooting could play a role in the election outcome.
Reynolds said he’ll vote the same way, against more background checks. He said he’s not against all background checks, but 594 is flawed.
“I don’t think it will help anything,” he said. “I think it’s just going to label a lot of people as criminals who don’t necessarily deserve it.”
Critics say I-594’s background check requirement for gun transfers as well as sales could ensnare otherwise law-abiding gun owners. Both initiatives carry endorsements from various members of law enforcement.
In Marysville, people are more focused on grieving and comforting one another than on the looming election.
In the kitchen of the Marysville United Methodist Church, a group of women turned out dozens of homemade cookies for the high school’s sports teams, teachers and anyone else who might appreciate them.
Joy Griffith, helping package the cookies for delivery, said, “It’s not a meal, it’s just, 'We think about you and our hearts are with you.'”
Griffith said no one is thinking much about politics at this moment. She said she appreciates that when parents of the Sandy Hook children killed in 2012 happened to be in Seattle last week to campaign for I-594, they didn’t make comparisons to Marysville.
“They said, 'We don’t want to go there, it’s not the time,'” she said, which echoed her own feelings.
The 594 campaign has acknowledged the shooting, however. Cheryl Stumbo, a survivor of Seattle’s Jewish Federation shooting in 2006, is one of the initiative sponsors. She said in a statement after the Marysville shooting that “incidents like these are examples of the gun violence that’s all too frequent in our state.”
Ardyce Johnson is another of the bakers. She said she attended an informational event about the ballot measures earlier this fall and plans to vote for I-594. “Personally I support 594 because I feel we have to have accountability and we need to close loopholes,” she said.
Will the Marysville shooting affect the way voters statewide think about the gun measures in this general election?
University of Washington professor Matt Barreto predicts that I-594 will gain voter support in its wake. Barreto’s most recent poll was completed just before the shooting on Oct. 24. The poll results suggested that I-594 seemed likely to pass with 64 percent support, while 591 was too close to call at 45 percent.
Nationwide, school shootings haven’t resulted in widespread support for stricter gun laws.
A Gallup poll found that Americans’ support for gun laws increased just temporarily in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, which killed 18 children and six teachers.
But over the long term, that support has been declining for decades. Currently fewer than half of Americans, 47 percent, say they support stricter gun laws.
For more KUOW elections coverage, visit the Election Connection page.