Federal Way needs new direction on dealing with gun, safety issues

One city has shown the courage to stand up and start the discussion.

Bob Roegner

Bob Roegner

Many conservatives sent me emails telling me they like my columns questioning increased taxes and city spending. Hopefully this column won’t return them to the annoyed category. Because we need everyone on the same page. No one wants a mass shooting in our town, let alone in our school district. No one wants guns in the wrong hands, and we should be able to agree that we don’t want people to have guns that shouldn’t have them.

I remain a firm believer that reasonable people with a common goal to make sure Federal Way is never on the national news because of a mass shooting can find a way to compromise in the best interest of our schools, theaters, restaurants and other places people congregate.

School has started, legislative races are underway and the winners will go to Olympia in January to change the laws to deal with problems their constituents are concerned about. Now is the time for the community to see if we can find that needed common ground and arm them with community viewpoints.

Since polls suggest that a majority of voters want some kind of gun control changes, we can either find a path that is thoughtful and reasonable or face a slew of state initiatives over the next few years that may or may not fit with each other or make sense in Federal Way. Now is the time to make sure all our local government legislative agendas contain language to try and minimize mass shootings. City government, the school district, South King Fire and Rescue, and Lakehaven Utility District should all include recommendations to pass gun and school safety legislation.

I know some city officials are afraid of touching the issue and say the Second Amendment limits the role of local government in control of weapons. But what the state pre-empts, it can also un-preempt by changing state law or allowing cities more local options. The city did have the Violence Prevention Committee, however it was only a start and was poorly funded.

But we finally have one city that has shown the courage to stand up and start the discussion. In direct response to the Florida shootings, the city of Kirkland used its summer vacation well and together with its school district has provided a model with a Town Hall meeting this past summer to collect input with the goal of using state and local government to promote methods to reduce mass shootings, homicides and suicides. Community education is part of the plan.

Kirkland wanted ideas to consider for council ordinances and for state legislation. They recognized that cities in this state are different, and certainly the east and west parts of the state are different. Kirkland wants to decide what might be best for their community. Shouldn’t we?

Kirkland started with focus groups that included parents from several different schools, PTAs, students, gun owners and others, then moved to a Town Hall meeting attended by over 200 people. Here are a few of the ideas they discussed.

A ban on assault rifles and semi-automatic firearms; enhanced background checks; not allowing sales to people with a felony convictions, mentally unstable, or involved in hate organizations; requiring fire arm locks; a ban on open carry community wide or at targeted locations; more resource officers in schools, but not just more uniforms with guns; more training in de-escalation, crisis intervention, domestic violence, and starting a mental health awareness campaign. They felt arming teachers was not the answer. And they discussed a Civilian Review Board. Students testified at council meetings.

That was how the Kirkland school district and City Council spent its summer vacation.

In Federal Way, our students reacted to the shootings in Florida with a march from Federal Way High school to the Town Center park. They were joined by the Deputy Mayor, three other council members, the school superintendent, two school board members and two state legislators. It was a wonderful learning moment for these young people on the cusp of adulthood. The students also held a walk out. In both instances these young scholars made us proud of their conduct. Some of the items mentioned in Kirkland are in place here. But since the student march there has been very little public focus. At a time when political leadership has been sorely needed on an issue, there have been no community wide meetings to engage residents and seek ideas. No focus groups. No outrage and proposals for resolutions or ordinances changes stating our intolerance of mass shootings or proposals to the legislature for state law changes and so far no mention in discussions of the 2019-20 city budget.

Somewhere over the summer we lost our direction and let those young people down. Or our political leaders didn’t elevate the dialog or grab the mantel of leadership. The school district is in a prevention mode and the city in reactive mode. It’s time for city government to move to prevention and lead. Whether it’s the Mayor or the council or both. Maybe Deputy Mayor Susan Honda could create a council committee and ask council member put Jesse Johnson to chair it and put together a plan modeled after Kirkland.

With 96,000 people and a healthy respect for differences of opinion, looking rationally at what might be best for Federal Way, we should be able to come up with a list of ideas for our City Council, school board and our legislative delegation to review and support. Among individual leaders there are different opinions on what should be done. But getting consensus would make it easier because doing nothing shouldn’t be an option.

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