Mayor's gun plan way off target
WHEN IT comes to his big gun plan, Mayor Greg Nickels misses the mark. His approach can be summed up as:
The mayor, you may recall, wants to ban concealed weapons from public places such as city buildings and parks. People armed in those areas could get arrested for criminal trespass.
Hizzoner seems to shrug off that his proposed restrictions would likely violate state laws that block cities from enacting gun rules.
Even if the mayor were to prevail -- a big if, considering costly court challenges are promised by the pro-gun set -- the law would be nearly impossible to enforce. How will police know who is packing? When the person waves a gun? After it tumbles from a waistband?
Nickels' plan is a gross overreaction to what sparked it: the shooting at Folklife Festival in which several people were injured. The May incident, which escalated from a random scuffle, doesn't reflect our city's biggest trouble with guns.
The violence that grips Seattle involves young people with gang ties shooting one another in targeted, retaliatory strikes. Nickels' proposal does nothing to keep us safe from brazen youths toting legal or illegal firearms -- folks who will ignore bans.
What makes the problem worse is the vast sea of illegal firearms circulating. In a P-I story this year, a young man boasted: "It's easier to get a gun than it is to get a car."
So the mayor would be better setting his sights on a more easily implemented, short-term tool.
How about a gun buyback?
Have people drop off guns, anonymously and with no questions asked, in exchange for gift certificates. (Money isn't smart because some could use the cash to buy pricier guns.)
Such a program might offer a measure of success -- not to mention a public relations coup for the mayor.
Officials elsewhere have found the bad economy spurred many to turn in firearms. In Los Angeles, the sheriff's department says more gun holders than before are seeking $100 gift cards from Target and grocers as part of a "Gifts for Guns" holiday drive. The number of items turned in is up 50 percent -- more than 900 weapons, plus hand grenades, according to media reports.
In the early '90s, when guns, drugs and gangs from L.A. were causing blood to run in Seattle, civic leaders here launched a gun buyback drive that made a dent. Nearly 1,000 handguns or modified weapons were turned in. One official recalled a couple handing over the weapon their daughter used to commit suicide. It still had the police evidence tag attached. Another couple turned in a gun they found in their kid's room. Youths showed up with sawed-off shotguns and semi-automatics -- weapons cops fear.
Are buybacks a cure-all? Hardly, but few policies are.
"Research and data show these programs have not been as effective as people would like in reclaiming weapons from people who'd use them criminally," argues Seattle Police Department spokesman Sean Whitcomb.
Turned-in guns don't guarantee similar weapons will stay out of the hands of those who have no business with them -- felons, the severely mentally ill, kids. (An evaluation of Seattle's buyback found that while it attracted broad public support, it didn't have a statistically significant impact on crime.)
But here's the bottom line: Any push to reduce the volume of guns in circulation beats a proposed law -- such as the mayor's -- which is a tiger with no teeth.
And statistics fail to measure intangibles like how removing an old, excess gun from a home eliminates the chance of someone breaking in and stealing it.
There's also this: A buyback is one thing responsible gun owners, even card-carrying NRA members, will back. Unlike the mayor's proposed ban, it doesn't stomp on their Second Amendment rights and it doesn't open floodgates to even more gun restrictions.
In the end, other pieces must accompany buybacks to foster lasting public safety improvements: cracking down on assault weapons; curtailing gun rights for the mentally ill; and closing the "gun-show loophole." That loophole permits buyers to avoid point-of-sale screening by purchasing weapons through private transactions.
Together, these steps will make a difference. In this state alone, about 600 people die from gun violence each year. Gun-related violence costs $2 billion annually in medical costs, insurance costs, legal expenses and the loss of "life value," says Ralph Fascitelli of Washington Ceasefire, an advocacy group.
The mayor's proposal may make him feel like he's taking tough aim at crime, but all he's doing is misfiring.
P-I columnist Robert L. Jamieson Jr. can be reached at 206-448-8125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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