There is at least one certainty about the otherwise inexplicable Ian Stawicki. He was mad but not quite mad enough. He punched out his brother and broke his girlfriend's nose. His wild-eyed anger scared people. His father thought he was "crazy." But under state law he couldn't be forcibly committed. Yet he could legally carry a gun, and owned six of them. As Dan Turner puts it, "He didn't break the law until he pulled out a pistol and started shooting."
Stawicki's erratic moods - calm, then storm - were known only to family and acquaintances, who all seemed to have given up hope of doing anything. Typically, the rest of us don't learn about such potential rage until it explodes in violence.
But, writing in the Los Angeles Times last week, Turner, one of the paper's editorial writers, wondered if Stawicki might have been thwarted had Washington adopted one of California's gun statutes.
The slaughter at Cafe Racer "might have happened anywhere, even in California," he allows. "But it's notable that in California, he probably wouldn't have been legally allowed to walk around armed in public."
Stawicki was permitted to do so under the state's "shall issue" law, which says that officials must award concealed weapons permits to anyone who meets the standards, even if police think the applicant is dangerous.
"The state's bar is so low," Turner notes, "that even a character like Stawicki could slither under it." He'd never been involuntarily committed, was over 21, a U.S. citizen, had no felony convictions and met the few other qualifications required for a permit.
"So it was perfectly legal for him to walk into Cafe Racer on Wednesday morning with two pistols hidden under his clothing."
For those looking for some answers, Turner offers this: In California,
Background checks [for gun permits] are more extensive and might involve interviewing an applicant's family, which would have turned up the information that they thought Stawicki was missing several marbles. Some California jurisdictions even require psychological testing for permit applicants.
Moreover, Stawicki would have had to demonstrate good cause to carry a concealed weapon -- typically, applicants in California have to show they're under some kind of physical threat, perhaps by someone they've taken out a restraining order against. Being a security guard is also typically considered good cause. Stawicki didn't meet those standards.
There are other changes that can be made to strengthen the state's gun laws. But futility rules. Seattle, mostly trying to go it alone, keeps running into the state's "preemption" law.
As RCW 9.41.290 puts it, "the state of Washington hereby fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation. Local laws that are inconsistent with, more restrictive than, or exceed the requirements of state law shall not be enacted, regardless of the nature of the code." Thus Seattle can't even outlaw guns in parks, for example, since the rest of the state doesn't.
As Washington CeaseFire leader Ralph Fascitelli says, "The state law of preemption is also preventing the city from banning semi-automatic assault weapons similar to the ones that killed young Aaron Sullivan of Leschi a few years back as well as a Seattle police officer on Halloween night in 2009."
The truth is, he says, "there is little the city can do to reduce gun violence as long as our elected state officials continue to cave in to the extremist gun rights agenda." He accuses House Speaker Frank Chopp, the Seattle Democrat, of saying he's for change but never pushing for it, failing to close that much-loathed gun show loophole that aids the free flow of cheap handguns.
The LA Times' Turner says permissive gun laws like Washington's are now being pushed in California by the National Rifle Association. The NRA wants states to be able to implement weaker laws that undermine federal statutes. Ironically, that's essentially the reverse of what Seattle is seeking in Olympia - changes that will allow the city to strengthen laws.
The U.S.House of Representatives has already approved a bill that would force California to honor concealed weapons permits issued in more permissive states such as Washington, Turner notes. Two related bills are awaiting a vote in the Senate, where a similar measure failed by just two votes in 2009. In the end, he writes:
"Shall issue" laws simply make things easier for killers by putting deadly force at their fingertips, and they encourage gun violence by allowing unstable people to respond to emotional crises by opening fire. People who need concealed weapons permits should still be able to get them, but Stawicki didn't need one -- and California doesn't need to be saddled with the irresponsible permitting practices of nearby states such as Washington and Arizona.
More police patrols will not make a difference, adds CeaseFire's Fascitelli. "The only way to stem gun violence is to reduce the flow of guns into Seattle and that requires bold action in Olympia so elected officials in Seattle can take the necessary steps. Until that change takes place, city officials are virtually powerless to stop the bloodshed."