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May 31, 2012 at 7:29 AM

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Seattle shootings: Is it time for gun control?

Civil disagreements, with Lynne Varner and Bruce Ramsey of the Seattle Times editorial board, is an occasional feature of the Ed Cetera blog. Today they take up gun control in light of a spate of fatal shootings in Seattle.

Lynne Varner, left, and Bruce Ramsey

Lynne Varner: Bruce, Seattle is a city on edge after shootings left five dead, plus the shooter. The Seattle Times Editorial Board here calls for solutions, both immediate — stepped up patrols, community outreach — to a broader, long-term strategic plan that tackles gun crimes and access to guns.

A unifying theme in all of the shootings — outside of the guns, of course — were the people wielding them with impunity and an absence of fear of the consequences. Reading about the tragic deaths, the Madrona father drving with his family to run errands, the teacher walking through Seattle Center until a person affiliated with a gang shoots him in the leg while trying to shoot someone else. Too many people think it is not only OK to try and settle problems with a gun, they aren't too concerned about where they're aiming it. Maybe it is time for stricter gun control.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave Washington state here 15 points out of a possible 100 for having gun control laws strict enough to prevent gun violence. "Washington has weak gun laws that help feed the illegal gun market, allow the sale of guns without background checks and allow the sale of military-style assault weapons," the Brady campaign said.

Some argue that strict gun control doesn't work. The most often used example to make this argument is Washington, D.C. which has some of the tightest restrictions on gun ownership in the country and yet one of the highest murder rates. But that's not a great comparison. So much else, including high poverty rates and organized drug crimes, goes into making D.C. a violent city.

To be sure, Washington has one of the lowest number of gun deaths per capita. According to 2008 data published by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Washington supplies fewer crime guns per capita than the national average. What do you think, Bruce?

gun control

Bruce Ramsey: You know, Lynne, if I were designing a new society, maybe on the planet Mars, I'd ban all deadly weapons. In a society where nobody has such weapons, everyone is safer. But we don't live in a society like that, and we can't have it. We have a culture and history and Constitution that allows guns, and millions of Americans have guns. They are here. A law won't make them go away.

One price of gun ownership is that a few people are irresponsible with them — I am thinking of these drive-by sprayings — and once in a while a gun owner goes berserk. Guns do not cause these things, but they make them easier to inflict on innocents. Without a gun it would have been more difficult for the miscreant today to shoot up some latte drinkers, though he might have used a homemade bomb. Still, he used a gun.

The immediate problem is the man himself, and he has solved that problem. His last act was a highly moral one that made the community safer.

Regarding the other shootings, yesterday's Seattle Times had the above-the-fold headline, "Cops: Guns, not gangs, are issue." It quotes a police officer saying, "A person who has a gun is more likely to use a gun." That is tautological. It is a kind of knee-jerk statement by someone who doesn't know why this is happening, but who is under pressure to say something. It is really meaningless.

The interesting questions about gun control are, first, how much control will courts permit under the Second Amendment, and second, whether more restrictions on law-abiding people would limit the actions of criminals. My guess is that the restrictions that gun opponents could actually get passed, and approved by the courts, would do little good, and that the restrictions that would work--banning the sale of ammunition and reload supplies--have no chance of being passed or being accepted by the courts.

I think we live with guns and occasionally worry about them. If this leaves you feeling at a disadvantage, Lynne, maybe you need to get one.

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