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Mark Stern, the co-owner of the Big Picture theater in Belltown, is already anticipating hate mail and angry calls from gun owners. He wants them to know he’s not against guns. But if they’re thinking of coming to his movie theater, he’d rather they don’t bring their guns along.

“We think, as private business owners, we can say that we prefer customers to leave their guns at home,” Stern said.

On Thursday, The Big Picture became the 100th Seattle business to join a gun-free-zone effort sponsored jointly by the city and Washington CeaseFire. At a news conference to announce the milestone, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said that since the program started in August, almost one business a day has signed up.

Cafe Racer, where a mentally ill customer shot and killed four people in May 2012, was one of the first businesses to join.

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Supporters acknowledge that businesses posting a gun-free zone sticker won’t stop a determined killer, but they hope that removing guns from local bars and stores could help ensure that “an argument doesn’t turn into a funeral,” said Ralph Fascitelli, board president of Washington CeaseFire.

Fascitelli noted that state law prohibits municipalities from adopting their own gun laws. But businesses do have the right to set conditions for entry, such as requiring shirts and shoes.

And given the difficulty in passing more restrictive gun laws at the state level, he said, this is one strategy to continue to raise awareness and continue to put pressure on elected leaders.

“Everybody needs to be engaged in this battle. It’s the small steps that get us to victory.”

Gun-rights advocates are skeptical that the effort will produce any results.

“I haven’t seen any indication that a private business saying it’s off-limits to firearms has prevented a single crime,” said Dave Workman, senior editor of The Gun Mag, who has written about the right to bear arms for 20 years.

Workman pointed to reports speculating that the Aurora, Colo., movie- theater shooter chose that location out of several other movie theaters in the area because it did not allow guns.

In the wake of the Aurora shooting and the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December, the National Rifle Association said the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun was a good guy with a gun.

At the news conference, McGinn rejected that reasoning. “Safety is not having a society awash in guns,” he said. The mayor called gun violence a public-health issue and said that just as attitudes toward drunken driving have evolved to make it unacceptable, so, too, must the norms surrounding firearm sales and use.

He noted that a report on gun violence released earlier this year by Public Health-Seattle & King County found t
hat from 2007 to 2011, the average annual cost of firearm deaths and hospitalizations in the county was $177 million.

McGinn has been eager in an election year to showcase his support for stricter gun regulations. He announced a gun buyback in January but didn’t notify Washington CeaseFire, which questioned whether the effort reduced gun violence.

Fascitelli said that since then, his group and the mayor have worked together on ways to continue to pressure elected leaders to enact tougher gun laws and keep the issue before the public.

A signature drive is currently under way to require universal background checks for gun sales in the state. Supporters of Initiative 594 turned in 250,000 signatures earlier this month but need to gather an additional 75,000 by the Jan. 3 deadline to assure validation.

Second Amendment activists also are collecting signatures for an initiative that would prevent the state from adopting a stricter background-check law than the national standard.

Material from The Seattle Times archives was included in this report.

Lynn Thompson: or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes

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