Seattle Officials 'Powerless' Against Gun Violence

Barring a change in state law, guns will remain out of the city's control.

Prior to taking the lives of five innocent people before ending his own, Ian Stawicki 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.

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. Seattle, mostly going it alone on the gun-control front, 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 (D-Seattle) 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.

More police patrols will not make a difference, adds 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."

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