Original story here -> http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/386966_guns08.html
Mayor moves forward on gun ban plan
McKenna says state law applies
By LEVI PULKKINEN
An unequivocal "no" from the state Attorney General's Office is often enough to shoot down a city proposal.
Not so with a move by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels to ban legally permitted handguns from city-owned parks and buildings, an effort that, if successful, could shatter a 47-year-old state prohibition against cities' regulation of firearms.
The Mayor's Office continues to build a case for the ban despite an Oct. 14 opinion issued by Attorney General Rob McKenna's office arguing that the city cannot pre-empt state gun law. The mayor hopes to introduce an administrative order next month.
"The cities are the ones on the front lines of this issue," said Regina LaBelle, legal counsel to the mayor. "We always have to keep in mind not just state law but also federal laws. But our bottom line is that we want to have common-sense gun laws."
Gun-control supporters have long targeted so-called "pre-emption" laws that keep gun regulation out of the hands of city lawmakers, who often are more inclined to create restrictions than their state and federal counterparts. Nickels' push represents a bright spot for gun-control advocates who've largely been stymied for more than a decade and watched this year as a string of high-profile shootings failed to elevate the issue in the national political campaigns or state races.
Nickels' move was widely criticized by supporters of gun rights, who saw it as both wrongheaded and outside the mayor's mandate. That view is shared by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, a Sequim Democrat who asked the attorney general to review Nickels' proposed ban.
"We quickly realized that he can't do that, that it would be illegal," Van De Wege said. "Even people who don't like guns can see the point here that we can't have every municipality having different gun regulations."
The past eight years have been marked by stagnation or backward movement for gun-control advocates, said Ladd Everitt, communications director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
President Bush allowed limits on assault weapons and other firearms to expire. In response to a scathing Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives report, Congress severely curtailed the agency's ability to share information on guns used in crime. And, though it received mixed reviews on both sides of the gun question, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a constitutional right to individual gun ownership.
A Democratic majority in the House of Representatives offered no relief for gun-control proponents.
"Anyone who thought this Democratic Congress was going to be strong on gun issues was sadly mistaken," Everitt said. "That said, I think that Barack Obama gets this, understands the balancing act" between the views of rural and urban Americans on the issue.
Some gun owners fear what Obama and a stronger Democratic Congress might do. Gun stores across the nation report a surge in business since Tuesday's election, attributing it to buyers worried that their ability to obtain firearms might be curtailed.
The Virginia Tech massacre did prompt Congress to improve the flawed national database used to perform background checks on gun buyers. If funded, the improvement package should ensure that more states submit mental health information to the system, said Eric Nelson, an assistant attorney general representing the Department of Social and Health Services.
As the system currently stands, most states fail to identify mentally ill individuals who've been confined against their will in the federal system. As a practical matter, Nelson said, that means someone institutionalized in Oregon or another state would pass a background check in Washington.
"It certainly is the case that not every state is submitting mental health records," Nelson said. "If FedEx can track a package around the world, how is it that the state and federal authorities can't track these prohibitive records?"
Washington began submitting records to the system in 2004, Nelson said. But the state background-check system remains fragmented, with each of the state's 291 police agencies charged with conducting state background checks for concealed pistol licenses.
Arriving at the Northwest Folklife Festival on May 24, 22-year-old Clinton Chad Grainger carried both his pistol and a concealed-weapons permit issued to him despite a history of mental illness. Hours later, he shot and wounded two people during an altercation.
The accidental shooting prompted Nickels to propose a ban on all guns from city-owned parks and buildings. That effort, LaBelle said, is still under way despite the attorney general's opinion.
LaBelle said the city needs greater "clarity" on state law, either from the Legislature or through the courts. She said the Mayor's Office has found 39 other Washington cities that already have restrictions on the books, which shows the issue is far from settled.
The opinion followed the line thought to be enshrined in a 1961 law stating that local gun rules "inconsistent" with state law are "pre-empted and repealed." Expressing a view backed by the attorney general's finding, Van De Wege said state law bans local governments from regulating guns.
Speaking more broadly, Van De Wege said he doesn't see a need for tighter restrictions on guns. The decline in crime rates around the state, he said, shows additional rules aren't needed.
"My concern, and I think a lot of my constituents' concern, is that we're going to end up punishing a lot of law-abiding citizens," he said. "They feel most comfortable carrying a gun, and they want to be able to do that."
LaBelle said the city is looking at only a single change. But she said city officials deserve the authority to protect citizens.
"The mayor has asked repeatedly for the Legislature to allow local representatives to create laws they think are right for their cities," she said. "It's obvious that it's a local concern."
The Mayor's Office plans to release an administrative order later this month in line with the earlier proposal. A public hearing would then take place in early December.
P-I reporter Levi Pulkkinen can be reached at 206-448-8348 or email@example.com.