In light of the recent wave of gun violence, Seattle-area politicians are discussing several ideas for tightening firearms laws.
City and state politicians reacted with anger and frustration at the wave of gun violence to strike Seattle and what they say are the obstacles to passing tougher gun laws.
Several ideas are being discussed, from increasing penalties for juveniles caught with handguns to closing the gun-show loophole and allowing cities some latitude to regulate firearms within their borders.
But gun-rights advocates say most of the proposals either run afoul of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms or wouldn’t have had any effect on the gun violence that’s shaken Seattle.
Most Read Local Stories
- 15-year-old SeaTac girl charged with murder, hit-and-run in July death of Maple Valley runner
- More fallout from how we're defunding Seattle police backward, this time in Pioneer Square
- Housing group levels empty Seattle motel, where homeless people slept, for tiny village
- Coronavirus daily news updates, September 15: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- Waiting for rain in the Seattle area? It's on the way; here's when
“The Seattle Center shooter had a rap sheet going back to when he was 14. He was arrested twice this year. Why wasn’t he in custody? Ian Stawicki had a licensed permit for his guns,” said Alan Gottlieb, executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, referring to two of the recent shootings.
“A gun doesn’t have a finger to pull the trigger or a brain to hate with,” he said.
Seattle-area politicians say they face difficulty convincing the gun lobby in Olympia or rural legislators that a large city might have a greater need for more firearms restrictions.
“It’s tragically frustrating that people who are extremely dangerous have access to firearms and we have few resources to control or limit their behavior,” said City Councilman Tom Rasmussen. “We end up chasing after, cleaning up the mess and comforting the families.”
State courts recently struck down the city’s attempt to ban guns from city parks and community centers. The court relied on a state law that prohibits cities, counties or towns from enacting any firearms regulations that are more restrictive than state law.
Adding parks to ban
The state does allow cities to ban firearms from some places — courts, jails, mental-health-treatment centers, but also convention centers and stadiums. John Schochet, assistant city attorney, said Seattle could ask the Legislature to add parks and community centers to the list.
Councilmember Nick Licata said the city should pick its fights and lobby for legislation that has a chance of passing. He said closing the loophole that allows private dealers to sell firearms at gun shows without a background check — a requirement when buying from a federally licensed dealer — would take a broad coalition of supporters and major organization.
But he said increasing penalties for leaving a loaded firearm unsecured, as well as further restricting access to guns by the mentally ill, could be pursued.
“We need to think about winnable measures,” Licata said.
Councilmember Bruce Harrell said penalties need to be increased for youths caught with handguns. Under current law, juveniles, who aren’t allowed to possess handguns, don’t face detention until the fifth time they are arrested with a weapon, he said.
Difficult to enact
The chairmen of the state House and Senate judiciary committees say enacting gun-control legislation is difficult, and in many cases politically impossible, in Washington state.
Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, the Senate judiciary chairman, said he’s advocated closing the gun-show loophole. But it’s been repeatedly defeated by the gun lobby, he said.
In many legislative districts “being a proud NRA member is the only acceptable politics,” said Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle. “When you put those parts of the state together, that’s the majority in the Legislature.”
However, lawmakers have passed some bills dealing with gun ownership, Pedersen said. For example, a bill approved in 2009 prohibits the possession of firearms by people who have been involuntarily committed for mental-health treatment for 14 days or longer.
Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, the Speaker of the House, said he was willing to review that statute to see if it needs strengthening, in light of Stawicki’s rampage that left five people dead before he took his own life. Stawicki’s family said he had a history of untreated mental illness, yet he legally owned several guns.
Chopp also said he supports closing the gun-show loophole.
But Ralph Fascitelli, outgoing board president for Washington CeaseFire, said Chopp hasn’t taken a leadership role on the issue.
“He always says he supports it, then he sits on his hands so he doesn’t rile the NRA,” Fascitelli said.
Jay Inslee, the Democratic candidate for governor, said he supports requiring background checks for anyone buying a firearm at a gun show, but he had no other specific proposals to address gun violence.
Inslee’s Republican challenger, Rob McKenna, could not be reached for comment. His campaign staff declined several interview requests over two days, saying he was too busy to talk.
John Rodabaugh, president of the Washington Arms Collectors, said gun-control legislation would not prevent the kinds of shootings that hit Seattle in the past week. The group is an NRA-affiliated organization that holds the largest gun show in the state, according to its website.
“Whenever something bad happens, people’s initial response is, well, we have to do something. I understand the response to want to do something. But let’s figure out what happened and then do something to prevent that,” he said.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or email@example.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.