"Nickels takes fire from gun rights activists". "Second Amendment supporters take aim at City". Make all the cute little headlines you want about last night's public hearing about Mayor>"/>
"Nickels takes fire from gun rights activists". "Second Amendment supporters take aim at City". Make all the cute little headlines you want about last night's public hearing about Mayor Greg Nickels' proposed firearms ban on city-owned property, but the issue has caught the attention of the public.
More than 150 people showed up at City Hall, with the vast majority sporting fashionable anti-Nickels buttons provided by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. The irony is that Dec. 15 was also Bill of Rights Day, a fact not lost on on most of those who arrived to defend the Second Amendment and the more clearly defined right to own firearms as provided by Washington's constitution.
City Hall has received 2,000 messages - phone-calls, letters and mostly e-mails - about the controversy. Approximately 80 percent of these apparently have come from individuals residing outside the city limits.
Prior to last night's hearing, Nickels spokesperson Alex Fryer helpfully tried to suggest that most of the audience members in attendance did not live in Seattle, reminding this reporter again after the hearing ended.
"A lot of people not from the city of Seattle tonight will talk about their opposition," Fryer said. "But we believe this has a lot of support from the community."
Twenty-two individuals signed up to speak in favor of Nickels' rule change whereas more than 60 spoke against. Of these, roughly half, or more, lived inside Seattle and most of the rest claimed to visit or work in the Emerald City on a regular basis.
Although it is convenient to characterize the opponents of Nickels' gun ban merely as a lot of flannel and camo-clad yokels from Auburn or Kent or Enumclaw, the audience was far more representative of the city as a whole than one might stereotypically expect.
There were healthy numbers of liberals and progressives, environmentalists and community activists mixed in with Republicans and Libertarians who were opposed to the notion that, despite being licensed to legally carry a concealed firearm, they'd be forced to walk unarmed in city parks while gang members, stalkers and sundry other criminals are free to pack heat.
Lonnie Wilson, a Lynnwood resident, said he and his partner frequently visit Seattle because it is the center of gay cultural life in the region. He has had a concealed pistol license for eight years.
"As a gay man, I have to be very careful about holding the hand of my partner in public," Wilson said. "I don't want to hide myself just to be safe. Minorities such as myself are the biggest target of hate crimes."
Yvonne Kinoshita Ward, a civil rights lawyer and former President of the Asian Bar Association of Washington said the ban hurts the most vulnerable in the community, minorities, women, domestic violence victims and the disabled. She quoted FBI crime statistics stating that of the 9,000 hate crimes committed in 2007, 41 percent occured on government-owned property.
"Wicked and cowardly men who commit hate crimes do not obey the law," Ward said. "Do not disarm or criminalize those they seek to harm."
Maggie Willson, from Seattle, described herself as a "gun-toting tree-hugger" who campaigned for Barack Obama. She spoke about being raped at knife-point and living in fear for several years before a friend taught her how to shoot.
"Gun bans hurt women more than they hurt men," Willson said adding that she now feels secure, as a CPL holder, to hike at Carkeek Park.
Representatives from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle spoke in favor of the ban, including Cheryl Stumbo who survived the shooting that occurred at their offices in 2006. Although she said the ban would make her feel safer, Stumbo admitted that Nickels' rule probably would not have prevented the hate crime that took the life of of her niece and injured five others.
Nor would the ban have stopped any of the other high-profile shootings that have marred the city, such as the 2007 University of Washington shooting that took the life of Rebecca Griego who had a protection order against a former boyfriend stalking her. Nor would it have prevented the 2006 Capitol Hill Massacre that claimed the lives of six people.
Which begs the question, and was asked numerous times by audience members, if the ban on guns in public places wouldn't have prevented these high-profile murder cases, and if it won't dissuade actual criminals from having firearms or "deadly weapons" in public places, what is the point of having a ban at all?
Mayor Nickels did not attend the hearing last night to answer that question. When asked why he didn't show, SW was informed that there are just so many hearings that take place in the City, the mayor can't be expected to attend them all.
The proposed firearms rule doesn't carry the force of criminal penalties either. Being a "rule" and not an ordinance or law, a person carrying a gun on city-owned property wouldn't be subject to a fine or arrest. Instead they would be merely asked to leave. It is only upon their refusal to leave that a gun-owner would be subject to criminal-trespass violations.
Citing pre-emption, last October Attorney General Rob McKenna issued a statement saying cities are not able to enact gun-control regulations that are more restrictive than those applied by state law.
The Mayor's office disagrees, relying on a state Supreme Court ruling allowing the City of Sequim to restrict a gun show on city property along with a variety of cities that have imposed ordinances restricting the possession of firearms in city halls.