Opinion

City Hall stays quiet in gun debate | Bob Roegner

The debate over guns has taken some unusual turns in the past few months. The shock of Newtown has jolted many citizens into a discussion about what community standards regarding guns should be.

Up in Oak Harbor, they had a monthlong debate about whether a law on the books that bans carrying guns in public parks was legal and could be maintained. During one meeting, a city council member left the council meeting after he found that audience members were armed. He asked that guns not be allowed in the council chambers, and that failed. The issue became moot when the city attorney pointed out that the city can’t have laws more restrictive than state law allows. Guns are apparently allowed in most places including parks and City Hall, but not in schools or courts.

On Bainbridge Island, the mayor and council passed a resolution to Congress promoting reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.

City officials have lobbied the Legislature for years for more “home rule,” so they could have more autonomy in setting rules for their cities on many different topics. Some bills have been introduced in the current legislative session for changes in gun laws. Democrats have been the most aggressive, but are also mindful of Republican control of the Senate. Bills with substance may not pass this session, but the debate is healthy and may result in changes in the future.

Here in Federal Way, the only discussion about community standards and children’s safety has been at the school board. Local gun supporters have encouraged the district to allow armed volunteers to be in schools. Some even wanted to arm teachers and administrators. However, Superintendent Rob Neu was both clear and forceful in his rejection of the ideas.

Neu wants teachers and administrators to do the jobs they were trained for, and the district already employs several city police officers at district expense. In responding to citizen concerns, district staff have had public discussions regarding its security plans. They also meet with Federal Way Police Department administrators regularly.

Our children should certainly be our highest safety priority. But it appears Superintendent Neu is the only leader speaking out. The silence from City Hall is noticeable. That isn’t to suggest that our city leaders don’t care about our children and our safety. They undoubtedly do.

But large numbers of people and children congregate at restaurants, the mall and theaters, and there are several public day care facilities in town. Sandy Hook Elementary provided a shock, but has anything changed?

Where’s the outrage, where’s the leadership, where’s the commitment to making sure it doesn’t happen here? Some cities are sticking their head in the sand because their elected officials are politically afraid of the NRA, or don’t want to end up on the national news like Oak Harbor. Is that happening here? The only comment from City Hall was they liked Seattle’s gun buyback program. But has any money been set aside?

Federal Way’s city attorney would likely take the same position that the Oak Harbor attorney did. However, King County Executive Dow Constantine, noting that 125 people died in King County due to gun violence last year, directed the Department of Health to develop innovative strategies for preventing gun violence. Has such a directive been initiated here?

Federal Way’s mayor and council have had several weeks to amend their legislative agenda to include local control initiatives and instruct the city lobbyist and work with legislators to pass the legislation. Did the city leaders or lobbyist testify on any of the bills regarding gun safety? It appears neither has occurred. We have passed the House of Origin cutoff date in the Legislature, but there are still ways of moving legislation.

At the same time, city leaders need to shine a light on the issue. They need to determine what changes the community would like to see, and what would make them feel more safe.

Have an adult conversation and listen to both sides. There are many groups, both pro and con, who could provide information. But start a process. The school district shouldn’t be the only government to have a public discussion. The superintendent and school board are responsible for schools. The mayor and council are responsible for everything else.

 

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