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Reflections on and Response to Gun Violence

I’ve heard an outcry from people all over the City concerned about the recent shootings that have plagued Seattle neighborhoods, some of which have taken the lives of beloved residents of our city.  Although Seattle has one of the lowest homicide rates among the nation’s big cities, ranking 78th among 94 cities, the increase this year is tragic and I worry that current strategies used to curb violence are not working.

Town Hall's memorial to Gloria Leonidas. Photo credit to The Stranger

At today’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee meeting, Councilmembers were joined by the Seattle Police Department, Seattle Fire Department, and the Law Departments.  The full meeting was centered on public safety matters, including a recap on major incidents reports, the anti-violence deployment steps the City is taking, as well as answers to questions raised by Councilmembers at last week’s Council Briefing.  If you missed the meeting, you may want to watch here.

Some people have written to me in support of stronger gun laws.  Others have pointed to our State and Federal Constitutions as reasons that gun laws shouldn’t be changed.  Earlier this year, the Washington Supreme Court declined to review the Appeals Court ruling overturning the 2008 Seattle firearms ban on guns in areas of parks, community centers and other facilities where children are likely to be present.  Hugh Spitzer, a constitutional-law professor, wrote this editorial considering whether the state courts would uphold stricter gun laws if passed.  Here is a quick review of Seattle’s efforts in the State Legislature over the last several years in the area of stricter gun laws:

2009:  a. Support a statewide ban on military-style assault weapons, b. Support local governments’ ability to regulate firearms or weapons in public areas to ensure the safety of their communities and local circumstances, c.  Support early intervention in juvenile possession of illegal firearms and proactive detention for juvenile offenses to deter potential future convictions under more severe adult sanctions.

2010 and 2011:  a. Support investments in youth violence prevention and intervention, new tools to prevent and reduce gang violence, and domestic violence prevention and services, b. Support local governments’ ability to regulate firearms or weapons in public places to ensure the safety of their communities and local circumstances.

I think the city should lobby for legislation that has a chance of passing and can withstand judicial review. Whether working on the issues discussed above from prior legislative sessions or other ideas like gun buy-back programs, closing the gun show loophole allowing private dealers to sell guns without a background check, increasing penalties for unsecured loaded firearms, or further restricting access to guns by the mentally ill, it will take a broad coalition of supporters and major organizations in order to be successful.

I am additionally concerned that the lack of willingness among some members of the public to assist police is one of the biggest barriers to effective policing and we must continue efforts to break the “code of silence” that prevents some community members from reporting suspected criminals to police.  Recently, 400 Seattle teenagers met with 20 Seattle officers; this is the kind of work that must be done to address tense relationships with the community and demonstrate to the public that they can trust law enforcement and that they will be treated with respect.  Equally important to restoring trust is that the City come quickly to an agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) on the proposed settlement for needed reforms in SPD.  Cities that have already been through a DOJ investigation and findings process, provide evidence that restoring police and community collaboration is an outcome that can take several years.   We need to begin now.

Finally, some of you have written to me to ask how you can be an agent for change in your communities.   Here are some options:

  1.  There is a crime prevention coordinator assigned to North Precinct, East/West Precinct and South/Southwest Precinct.  See here to learn more about what your crime prevention coordinator does and how to contact them.
  2. Another good way to get involved to fight crime is to get involved in Block Watch

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