Gunning amok

After Lonnie Davis' bloody rampage two weeks ago, I'm waiting for the NRA to cop a new slogan: "Guns don't kill people. Garden rakes kill people." Davis killed three with a rake and knives. Then, when he broke into Fred Westphal's house, he found an arsenal fit for a personal Armageddon, including two shotguns, two machine pistols, and a Mac 10 with a 30-round clip. Thus armed, he held police off for hours, shutting down I-5 and a nearby elementary school, seriously wounding one officer and injuring two others.

The guns were left loaded and unlocked in the bedroom closet and nightstand—"First place I'd look if I were a burglar," says sheriff's deputy John Urquhart. But no hard feelings. Three days later, Urquhart personally took Westphal the forms to claim compensation for the damage the shootout did to his home. "They tell me we have no responsibility to pay him anything," says Urquhart. "But we do have a moral obligation." After all, Westphal was "storing his guns legally," though Urquhart concedes that "responsibly is another question."

Now I'm all for police-community outreach and helping uprooted uninsured tenants like the Westphals; I just hope city cops will be as considerate the next time they knock down the wrong door on some junkie snitch's tip. But this is a curious "moral obligation" to the man whose gun accumulating made the shootout possible.

Westphal afterward conceded he'd been stupid and told Urquhart he'd ordered gunlocks. That sort of stupidity must be going around. From 1985 to 1994, the FBI received on average 274,000 gun theft reports a year; allowing for multiple guns stolen in some thefts, and others that go unreported, that suggest more than 500,000 guns are stolen each year—more than even the loopiest right-to-bear nuts claim are used to stop violent crimes. The Littleton massacre stands out among recent multiple shootings because Eric Nelson and Dylan Klebold didn't steal their arsenal. The child killers in Springfield and Jonesboro swiped family guns. Russell Weston, who killed two Capitol police officers, stole his father's gun.

Do intruders often stumble on arms caches just as Davis did? "Absolutely," says Urquhart; he himself once answered an alarm and flushed a burglar—who fortunately hadn't yet found the "loaded .45 automatic sitting right out in another room."

The right to be negligent

This latest bulletfest, following recent judicial and legislative follies, bolsters "enlightened" Washington's rising status as a gun-crazy state. In March, the Legislature failed again to pass the Whitney Graves bill, requiring safe gun storage—despite backing from the sheriffs and police chiefs and gun-rights powerbroker Alan Gottlieb. And the state Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of Thomas McGrane's lawsuit against Roger Cline. In 1992, Roger Cline of Falls City left his 16-year-old daughter home alone with one of his 20 guns, a high-powered .44, unlocked in the bedroom. A guest of hers took it and, six weeks later, used it to rob an Iowa diner and kill two people. One was McGrane's daughter.

McGrane's lawyers argue that owners of guns have a common-law duty to secure them against theft and misuse. That's just what the supreme courts of Montana and Kansas, plus appeals courts in Florida, Ohio, New Jersey, California, Georgia, and Louisiana—rabid liberal hotbeds, all of them—have found. It's what some previous Washington precedents seem to suggest. And it's what this state's Supremes can now decide, as McGrane's appeal bounces up to them. Though it's been little reported hereabouts (Iowa murders don't play big on Seattle TV), McGrane's lawyer, Mike Withey, predicts the case could set "a pretty significant precedent."

And might the Davis shootout give new legs to the Whitney Graves bill? Or will we have to wait for a full-scale massacre?

How the ministerial set relaxes

So what are 135 trade ministers really coming here to do when the World Trade Organization holds its global confab in November? The Wall Street Journal/Northwest (5/19) had Michael Mullen, director of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation center, complaining about this state's lack of a "cabinet-level trade director" to properly receive and schmooze these poohbahs. "These are senior-level people with a lot of free time," Mullen told the Journal. "If the state had a cabinet-level trade director who was focused on this and could say, 'Here are the people we need to get together,' and do it, there are tremendous opportunities for bringing foreign investment into the state."

Maybe that's what Journal readers want to hear. But when he was rebutting charges that the WTO hosts were "selling access" to the foreign officials, Mullen told the Weekly (4/23) just the opposite: "The [foreign] government people are going to be so tied up in negotiations that we don't even think they're going to have much time for any kind of meetings with the private sector."

Starving seas

The World Wildlife Fund and Marine Conservation Biology Institute release what institute director Elliott Norse calls "the most comprehensive look that anyone's undertaken at the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems." Warmer waters mean less nutrient-rich upwelling means less phytoplankton . . . on up the food chain to crashing salmon populations. A postscript from Norse: That, not the widely bruited "overpopulation" of gray whales, may be what's making so many emaciated whales wash up on our shores.

Busted bloc

A postscript to the flap, reported two weeks ago, over the Seattle International Film Festival's taking on Blockbuster as a sponsor to the exclusion of classier local video stores. The intemperate flyer headlined "Boycott SIFF?" was not the one handed out on opening night by picketers from the Seattle's Best Video Stores group; rather, it was distributed inhouse by Island Video, the SBVS store most aggrieved at the festival's bedding down with Blockbuster. That aggravation is piqued by what Island owner Tom Hastings sees as lack of appreciation for the SBVS stores' past contributions to SIFF; though they didn't contribute last year, they sponsored a screening and were major program advertisers in 1997.

 
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