I am deeply saddened by the shootings in Seattle. All of them. The ones that occurred months ago; the ones that are still unsolved; the ones that just occurred and are practically too raw to talk about. Every shooting results in heartbreak. We have witnessed lives cut short; families and friends bereaved. The loss of each individual will be felt forever.
We all say that things must change. But they haven’t. And people in our city are justifiably scared and tired of the same conversations and accusations.
Let’s assume we have the collective will to stop the gun violence and bring calm back to our city. We’ve said we wanted to make our streets and neighborhoods safe for years. Debates about gun laws and their effectiveness have raged for decades. How do we start anew?
Here are sixteen constructive ideas, from immediate short-term actions to long-term strategies, that together we can work to achieve. We will connect with our City Attorney, Pete Holmes, with Dan Satterberg, our King County Prosecuting Attorney, our local police, our legislators, congressional representatives and our neighborhoods. I pledge to continue my work with community leaders to hear productive ideas on making our neighborhoods safer. I invite you to take this journey with me.
- Short term, we put more police officers on patrol. The city’s police force is stretched thin, we know that. Nonetheless, we must put more trained officers visibly on the street to calm fears and deter further violence.
- We must identify the shooters. Our officers are tracking down leads and investigating the cases, but they can’t do it alone. They need help from eye witnesses, and the sooner we can identify the shooters and get them off the streets, the safer we all will be. There are various ways of reporting that can help all of our families and friends. Call 911 if you see or hear something needing immediate police response, or 206-625-5011 if there is something important to report but no immediate danger, or call 1-800-222-8477 if you want to remain anonymous. Report what you saw or heard, even if the information is incomplete; you may be saving a life tomorrow. We who live in this community – youth and adults – are the only ones who can break the code of silence and start a new safe way of being. The code of silence perpetuates fear and death.
- If our police department needs emergency help, we should find the temporary resources. King County, the University of Washington police, and other local law enforcement agencies have provided immediate help under our mutual aid agreements during the most recent shootings, for which we are thankful. Across the board, officers and detectives respond quickly and professionally, even when they are challenged with increasing workloads. Increasing their numbers permanently requires significant restructuring, or hiring more trained officers, something we must carefully consider in the next budget cycle.
- To keep the streets safe, additional investigators must be funded and trained so cases can be investigated and referred for prosecution. The number of detectives has shrunk as the police department has taken detectives to back-filled for other needs. This is understandable knowing the budget reductions, yet our detectives are crucial to the smoothly flowing system. Before a matter can be sent to the Prosecuting Attorney for trial, our detectives must thoroughly investigate the case and prepare it for prosecution. Because our detective unit has been reduced in size and the shootings have increased in number, our detectives have had to stop investigating some cases mid-stream to start investigating the next. Our detective unit has been cut down to the bare bones; more support is needed.
- We must ask our legislators for help: Amend the laws to require a background check for EVERY firearm sold in this state. In Washington State, anyone can go to a gun sale and buy from a private seller. This includes felons and those with significant mental illnesses. I was chilled when I visited a gun show a few years back and saw on every table little home-made signs saying “No ID Required, No Sales Tax Collected.” At that gun show, I watched hundreds of people buying and selling shotguns, handguns, assault weapons and all types of ammunition, including that designed to inflict tremendous harm on the human body.
- We need criminal background checks on all gun sales, including at gun shows. Washington is the ONLY West-coast state that hasn’t closed this “gun show loophole.” I call upon our legislature to work with us and close the gun show loophole in the State of Washington. We should use these shootings to unite around this principle and demand this change: no successful background check, no gun.
- Require permits to carry a gun. Today it’s perfectly legal to walk down the streets of Seattle with a loaded gun, so long as it’s in plain view. No permit is required to carry a gun in the open. I have seen people wear their guns into City Hall to make a point that they can. This next legislative session, join me in respectfully asking our legislature to amend the current law. Require everyone who carries a gun to acquire a permit, whether it’s openly carried on a belt like a cell phone or concealed under a jacket. Most other states, including Texas, require this type of permit. And while we’re at it, we should toughen up the concealed weapon permit process and require all hand gun carriers to attend and pass a certified gun safety course. We require driver’s education; let’s require gun carriers to do their homework too.
- Provide local authority to cities and towns to ban guns from parks, community centers, and other public locations. While we are focusing on Olympia, let’s amend the state’s pre-emption law codified in RCW 9.41.300(2)(b). The legislature could help make us safer by granting local authority to cities and towns to exclude guns from certain public areas such as our parks, community centers, and Seattle Center. Working with our City Attorney Pete Holmes (a hunter himself, by the way, who grew up knowing how to safely use guns), and Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, Seattle City Council can call upon the legislature to provide us with the authorization we need to make our city safer.
- Grant ATF (Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms) the authority to require dealer inventory checks to detect lost and stolen guns. This will require our Congressional delegation to courageously help us, but this change could make a big difference. Dealers are currently required to notify ATF when guns from their inventories have been lost or stolen, but the Tiahrt Amendment prevents ATF from requiring gun dealers to conduct annual physical inventory checks to detect losses and thefts. ATF reports thousands of guns are missing out of gun dealers’ inventories every year. We need to know where these guns are going, if they’ve been stolen, and our Senators and members of Congress can lead this effort.
- Provide authority to state and local authorities to fully investigate gun dealers and traffickers. Information about guns, whether lost, stolen, or improperly sold, should be made available to everyone, including law enforcement, researchers, and public health organizations. In civil proceedings, state and local law enforcement are restricted from using gun trace data to suspend or revoke the license of gun dealers caught breaking the law. Fixing this will require another federal law change, and will take us in the right direction.
- Require new handguns to be micro-stamped. Micro-stamping handguns during manufacturing imprints a unique code onto all shell casings when bullets are fired from that gun. It won’t stop a shooting from happening, but if police officers can learn the serial number of the gun used in a crime, they can quickly identify the owner, or at a minimum have a lead from which to start.
- Restrict large capacity ammunition magazines. Last year six people were murdered, and 13 others — including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords — were severely wounded in Tucson. The shooter used a gun capable of holding 33 bullets. These large capacity magazines were previously prohibited under federal law. The federal law expired. This law restricting the capacity of ammunition magazines should be reinstated.
- Increase penalties for people who sell guns to criminals, violent offenders, and young adults. According to the ATF, a majority of guns used in crimes by people under 24 years of age were purchased by someone else then stolen or sold. Those who sell guns to felons, violent criminals, or youth should be held criminally and civilly liable for the results of their actions. The city should coordinate efforts with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to consider which gun laws should be amended and updated.
- Keep loaded guns away from children. This is incredibly obvious, but loaded guns and children should not be in the same place. We don’t need more local tragedies to know this fact. We read about guns in homes and cars being misused way too often. Recently a Marysville, Washington, police officer was charged with second-degree manslaughter after his daughter was shot and killed in their van by a sibling using the officer’s gun. Four kids, under the age of seven, were left alone in the van with a loaded gun. What happened to the trigger lock? Or a separate lock box? I can only begin to imagine the pain, the blame, and the devastation to that family.
- Anti-bullying programs for girls and boys beginning early and continuing through the teen years should be incorporated in every school. School safety requires effective anti-bullying programs. Some measure of security, including surveillance magnetometers and additional security officers, may be necessary in some schools some of the time, but none of these things will guarantee students’ safety against determined shooters, such as those responsible for the deaths at Columbine or Virginia Tech. We know these shooters were loners, troubled, and mocked. The same is said to have been true about the Cafe Racer murderer. Had they been identified earlier by their peers or teachers, some form of care and intervention may have saved lives.
- Focus on the root causes of poverty and hopelessness. We fund many good programs available in our city to keep kids in school and help them attain skills to get jobs; we have programs to help those who are troubled or have significant mental illnesses stay on their medications and get the support they need; we have programs to help felons return from prison and find housing and employment. We must continue to fund the programs that work. By cutting corners and defunding the critical programs, we may just be cutting lives short. That is an expense we cannot afford.
Turning these 16 ideas into action items will require community determination. You may have more ideas. Let’s talk respectfully with one another in our neighborhoods, and make an effort to get to know one another. The only way we’ll succeed at making safe communities is to build trust and stay on this journey together. Success will not happen overnight, but we will be incrementally safer, every step we take.
It’s time; it’s time to walk our talk.