As a security detail blocked off Marysville-Pilchuck High School, where police on Saturday were investigating the state’s latest deadly school shooting, Washington voters were weighing the merits of two opposing gun measures on the November ballot.
Gun control advocates are calling the election “the only up-or-down vote on gun measures in the country this year and the only ballot initiative since 2000.”
The gun rights camp views this election as a bureaucratic nightmare and a blatant taking of a basic right.
On Friday, a troubled freshman football player took a gun into the Marysville-Pilchuck cafeteria and opened fire as horrified classmates watched.
Authorities say Jaylen Fryberg killed one student on the spot, seriously injured four others and then died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, all before the first lunch period ended.
Police have said the weapon used by Fryberg was “legally acquired,” but declined to elaborate.
In a statement issued Saturday, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office described the weapon as a .40-caliber handgun. Law enforcement officials are still trying to confirm a motive in the shootings.
Friday’s carnage was the region’s second deadly school shooting in a little over four months, and it happened shortly after Washington state voters began receiving mail-in ballots that ask them to make a choice.
Do they vote for Initiative 594, which would require universal background checks for gun sales, no matter the venue? Or do they fill in the oval beside Initiative 591, which would prohibit background checks in the Evergreen State unless Congress passes a national standard that would restrict all regions equally?
Politicking over the shooting began while Marysville-Pilchuck High School, home of the Tomahawks, was still under lock-down Friday and the gravely injured students were being rushed into surgery. That’s when the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility — a.k.a. Yes on 594 — posted a brief message on its campaign website.
“We are heartbroken that gun violence has once again touched a Washington school,” the note began. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, everyone at Marysville-Pilchuck High School and the Marysville community.”
To Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, which sponsored Initiative 591, that action shows how far his opponents “will go to push their anti-gun-rights agenda.”
“It took the proponents of 594 less than 90 minutes to use [the Marysville shooting] to push their initiative,” Gottlieb said Saturday. “The initiative would have had no impact on this shooting, because the shooter was a minor. It’s already illegal for the shooter to have or purchase a gun.”
But gun control advocates argued Saturday that whether Initiative 594 would have kept that handgun out of the boy’s hands is beside the point.
“The answer is clear that 594 will save lives,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence, based in Washington, D.C.
“I don’t think it’s fair to look at it in the context of any one specific tragedy,” he said, adding that it was more about “what can we do to prevent the greatest number of tragedies. And 594 is the best that it gets.”
Tributes to the dead, injured and grief-stricken began to crop up Saturday morning in this midsized city north of Seattle. Red and white balloons — the Tomahawks’ colors — were hung on a chain-link fence around the school grounds, along with a growing number of bouquets, soggy in the heavy rainfall.
A sign at What’s Brewing coffee shop advertised $3 mint mochas and “Prayers for MPHS.”
Hospital officials on Saturday identified the four students who were critically injured. Police also confirmed reports that a school employee had helped stop the shooter’s rampage.
Shaylee Chuckulnaskit and Gia Soriano, both 14, remained in critical condition at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett on Saturday morning, according to a statement released by the hospital. Both suffered serious head wounds Friday.
Harborview Medical Center in Seattle identified the other surviving victims as 14-year-old Nate Hatch and 15-year-old Andrew Fryberg. Hatch, who suffered a jaw injury, was in “serious and improving” condition, according to hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg. Andrew Fryberg remained in critical condition.
Hospital staff did not say whether Andrew Fryberg was related to the shooter.
“Our family is in shock. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers during this tragedy,” Soriano’s family said in a statement released by the hospital. “Our hearts go out to the other victims and their families. Please allow us our privacy as we deal with this tragedy.”
Both sides of the initiative debate insisted that the shooting had strengthened the resolve of their supporters. Gottlieb said that there was such demand for Initiative 591 yard signs since the shooting that his organization had since run out of the campaign tool.
A group of families that lost children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., two years ago will join Initiative 594 supporters Monday, as the campaign enters its final push.
“The biggest thing we hear today out of people who are responding to Marysville is an unwillingness to settle for inaction,” said Geoff Potter, I-594 campaign spokesman. “Whether it’s inaction at legislative level, in Congress, or in society that something like this would become the new normal.”