A couple dozen people gathered at downtown Seattle's Westlake Plaza on Sunday for a vigil marking the anniversary of the Tucson shootings. Sponsored by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, it was one of 69 such memorials in cities across the country.

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Every day he goes to work in the Longworth House Office Building in the U.S. Capitol, Rep. Jim McDermott walks by the office of Gabrielle Giffords — just five doors down the hall.

“It was on a day like this she was out having a community meeting, out in the open in Tucson and just like this event, she exposed herself to a young man who clearly had serious problems,” McDermott told a small gathering Sunday at downtown Seattle’s Westlake Plaza.

“The reason we are here today is to tell the stories of real people like you and I who have been wiped out by this plague” he said. “This is an extremely serious issue that can affect all of us.”

A couple dozen people gathered for a vigil marking the anniversary of the shooting in Tucson, in which six people were killed and 13 others injured, including the Arizona congresswoman.

It was one of 69 such memorials in cities across the country.

Participants held 19 lighted candles and observed a moment of silence in honor of the victims. A bell was rung 19 times.

Among those gathered and listening intently were several men openly carrying holstered weapons on their hips.

And the half-hour event was punctuated by a few interruptions, including one by a young man, clearly distraught, who rushed to the front of the gathering to demand “What are you doing? We have homeless people all over this country, and you are making a mockery of it right now.”

Ralph Fascitelli, president of Washington CeaseFire, which sponsored the event locally, called gun violence in this country “a huge and neglected public-health issue. And it is preventable,” he said.

He and others recalled the gun-related deaths five years ago this year of 32 people at Virginia Tech and closer to home the murder of four Lakewood police officers a little more than two years ago and the shooting just a week ago of a parks ranger in the Rainier National Park.

“People think this is an inner city problem … that this can’t affect them — and it can,” Fascitelli said.

In Washington, 600 people die each year of gun violence, including suicides and accidents.

Since the Tuscon shooting, Fascitelli said, 1.3 million Americans have bought guns thinking a weapon in the home would protect them.

He quoted a study by a Harvard University professor who said people with a gun at home are 22 times more likely to kill a family member or friend than an intruder and five times more likely to commit suicide.

While his organization isn’t seeking to prevent people from having guns at home for protection, he said he wants to see common-sense legislation “that treats this as a real public-health issue..”

Eric Miller, a member of OpenCarry.org, who was one of the armed attendants at Sunday’s vigil, said he seeks an opening to meet groups like CeaseFire half way, addressing the number of gun-related suicides and accidents.

Broad-based restrictions, however, only serve to hurt those who use weapons to protect themselves and their families, he said.

Miller said that in Oakland, Calif., where he worked as a housing officer before moving to Washington, gun violence was rising even as the state increased weapon restrictions.

“They closed down all the gun shows, banned all the assault weapons, closed all the gun shops,” he said. “We have every gun law there is. Yet the numbers went up.”

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbull.