Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels posted the essay below via Facebook earlier this week before Friday’s tragic school shooting in Marysville. In it, he invoked the memory of the “Capitol Hill massacre” in a call for the State of Washington to do much, much more to control guns:
On the morning of March 25 a few years ago, I stood outside of a house in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood just a block from the newspaper route I had as a kid. A gunman had just taken the lives of six innocent young men and women and then killed himself.
It was a senseless and shocking act of violence in the heart of my community. Like the others who gathered at the scene that morning, I felt grief, disbelief and anger. As mayor of the state’s largest city, I asked myself a question: “what could we have done to prevent this tragedy?”
Every week seems to bring fresh examples that beg this difficult question, from the horrific school shootings to a young man senselessly shot dead during an argument at a Rainer Valley intersection.
The rest of his essay and call for improving the state’s gun control is below.
We asked the former mayor — who grew up on Capitol Hill — if he was worried that calls for greater control as the state prepares to vote on I-594 could lead to greater backlash from the pro-gun community and groups aligning to defeat I-594 and support the limits proposed in I-591.
“The Washington State Legislature has failed to take any meaningful action to protect our children and seniors from guns getting into the hands of felons and persons who are mentally disturbed,” Nickels writes. “Sadly this has largely been due to the opposition of the Democratic Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp.”
“Initiative 594 represents exactly what Initiatives were meant to cure — correcting a failure of the Legislature to act to protect the public interest,” Nickels said. He said he shared his story, now, because he believes it is important to take “common sense steps” to “curb the presence of illegal guns in the wrong hands.” I-594 is a start, he writes.
It doesn’t matter whether you are an elected official, a grieving family, or simply a member of the community, gun violence touches all of our lives. Consider these facts: home with a gun is fives times as likely to have a homicide and a 300% greater chance of having a suicide. Public health experts will tell you simply reducing the availability of guns will save lives.
But in Pennsylvania, one state lawmaker’s response to the school shooting was a proposal to arm school teachers. Arming teachers? That’s not a solution, that’s surrendering to the misguided logic of the gun lobby.
While there is no easy solution to gun violence in our society, there are several commonsense steps we can take right now to start addressing the problem. Simply put, we must do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and disturbed individuals. And that is especially true right here in Washington State.
Unfortunately, we have some of the weakest guns laws of any state in the country. In fact, local communities like Seattle are preempted from passing tougher regulations to deal with proliferation of illegal guns on our streets.
State laws focus on punishing criminals after they commit crimes with guns. They do almost nothing to prevent criminals or deranged individuals from getting guns in the first place. That’s wrong.
The difficult reality from Seattle to Spokane is this: criminals have little trouble getting their hands on guns, but if local communities try to stop them, our hands are tied. That must change.
There are four commonsense steps we can take. They aren’t draconian. They don’t impact responsible, law-abiding gun owners. They are all regulations that other states have passed.
And they will make a difference.
First, close the gun show loophole. This unconscionable technicality allows anyone, including convicted felons, to buy weapons without a background check at any one of the many gun shows held around our state.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) says gun shows supply as much as 30 percent of all firearms sold in violation of federal law. That’s not a loophole, that’s a huge chasm.
Today, 18 other states have already taken a stand by closing this dangerous outlet for criminals by requiring that gun shows conduct the same commonsense background checks as licensed firearm dealers.
If Missouri, South Dakota, North Carolina and Colorado have closed the loophole, why can’t Washington?
Second, ban assault guns. Law-abiding citizens don’t need AK 47s. In Seattle, our police officers have seized 140 of these military-style assault weapons over the past five years. Why in the world should the men and women we rely on to keep our homes and businesses safe face this kind of firepower on the streets? Seven other states have already passed assault weapons bans. Washington should be number eight.
Third, require gun locks and safe gun storage. When someone is suicidal (or homicidal) the trigger lock or secure gun case can give a moment of pause, perhaps long enough for the moment of danger to pass. Not to mention making it harder for a thief to turn your own weapon against you.
Finally, collect information statewide on where crime guns are being purchased. Many gun dealers follow the rules but some flaunt the rules knowing the ATF only inspects each dealer on average every 22 years. Seattle is already using local gun-trace data to identify the source for gun traffickers and “straw purchasers” (people who buy guns for people who aren’t allowed to). Collecting this information across the state will help law enforcement agencies in all of our communities target the bad players.
Would any of these steps have prevented the tragedy on Capitol Hill? We can’t say. But we do know that taken together, these commonsense steps will save innocent lives from being lost to gun violence on the streets in our communities.
It is long past time our leaders in Olympia take a stand against the spread of illegal guns in our state. Let your legislators know that it is time to give our communities the tools we need to make our streets and neighborhoods safer.
We can’t keep answering the question of gun violence with a shrug. We can make a difference. All it takes is the will. We can take the first common sense step by voting for Initiative 594.