Seattle gun ban proposal sets the stage for battle

November 30, 2008|By Kim Murphy | Kim Murphy,Los Angeles Times

SEATTLE - The annual Northwest Folklife Festival is a throwback to hippie days, a mellow celebration of folk music, grilled salmon and sandals with socks in a city that considers laid-back a point of civic pride.

So when Joshua Penaluna, 19, felt a sharp pain in his wrist as two men came at him through the crowd at the festival in May, he assumed he had broken a bone as he fell.

"Then I heard someone say, 'Oh my god, he's been shot,' " Penaluna recalled.

Two other people, including Penaluna's girlfriend, were also hit. The shootings, in a city where sporadic but horrific street crime rattles its culture of progressive cool, sent Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels on a mission: Next month, he will hold a public hearing on a proposed order to ban guns on city property, including at parks, sporting events and street fairs.

In a state where more than 239,000 residents have permits to carry concealed weapons - and many consider a gun in their pocket a better deterrent to street crime than any law - the proposal appears almost certain to become a local gun-control battle in a year when the courts, and possibly the new administration of President-elect Barack Obama, are set to redefine the national debate.

In the aftermath of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that the Second Amendment explicitly protects Americans' right to own guns for self-defense, gun-rights advocates are girding for a new round of court cases in California, Chicago and elsewhere. The cases will determine how far the justices' decision striking down the District of Columbia's handgun ban can be extended to apply to state and local governments.

In Seattle, the battle will be over a Washington state law that specifically reserves the "entire field of firearms regulation" to the state. In October, the state attorney general's office issued an opinion that Nickels could not legally pre-empt state law with the handgun ban.

No matter. The mayor's staff announced Nov. 21 that he is proceeding with a public hearing Dec. 15 to take testimony on the proposed administrative rule that would go into effect in the spring, making anyone entering city property with a gun guilty of criminal trespass.

"Our parks, our community centers and our public events are safer without guns," Nickels said at a June news conference when he announced his executive order for the ban.

"At many properties, including City Hall, you can bring a gun if you have a concealed-weapons permit. Under this order, people with concealed weapons will be asked to give up their weapon or leave."

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