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Thursday, April 27, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Attacking gun rights does not save lives

Special to The Times

Much ink has been spent lately in an ongoing debate about gun rights versus gun control in the wake of the tragic shootings on Seattle's Capitol Hill a few weeks ago.

While the gun-control crowd has, by its own admission, tried to capitalize on the incident for its own purposes, the gun-rights community has been digging in and defending an individual civil right that is part of both our federal and state constitutions.

Lest anyone be misled, both the Second Amendment and Article 1, Section 24 of the Washington Constitution protect and affirm an individual right to keep and bear arms.

In 1982, the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution determined that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. Last year, Congress reaffirmed that finding in legislation that states, "The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the rights of individuals, including those who are not members of a militia or engaged in military service or training, to keep and bear arms."

Our state constitutional provision is far more specific than the Second Amendment: "The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired ... ."

Another admission from Washington CeaseFire and other gun-control proponents is that no gun-control law could have prevented the Capitol Hill incident. On that point, we all agree.

But what to do about gun accidents and gun violence? The National Rifle Association has had in effect, for years, successful firearm-safety programs that have taught millions of adults and children how to safely handle and use guns for recreation, hunting and personal protection.

Two effective laws, "three strikes, you're out" and "hard time for armed crime," were the brainchild of a former staffer at Bellevue's Second Amendment Foundation. The NRA and other gun-rights groups, including Bellevue's Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, pushed both initiatives and they have swept the country. Those laws proved you can lock up violent repeat offenders without infringing on the gun rights of law-abiding citizens.

Recently, CeaseFire President Ralph Fascitelli publicly invited gun-rights organizations to talk about solutions ("Working together to save lives" Times op-ed, April 20). While his offer to "put in writing the right of law-abiding citizens to own handguns and nonmilitary hunting rifles" is patently condescending — since we already have that and more in writing in the texts of our state and federal constitutions — there are issues worth discussing.

Since experts in the field have already noted that so-called "ballistic fingerprinting" doesn't work, and studies have shown that states where sensible concealed-carry statutes have been passed have lower violent-crime rates than states with restrictive gun laws, there are other options worth considering.

To prevent gun accidents among children, let's require mandatory firearms-safety training as part of our public-school curriculum. Youngsters already can take hunter-education courses, and younger hunters statistically have the fewest mishaps with firearms among all hunters.

Let's remember that fewer than 1 percent of armed felons get their guns from gun shows, according to a Justice Department study. Stop wasting time on mythical loopholes. Instead, don't allow prosecutors to accept plea bargains that drop enhanced gun penalties.

Citizens who shoot or kill in self-defense should be immune from civil lawsuits. Washington's Supreme Court has affirmed that citizens here have no duty to retreat from criminal attack in a place where they have a right to be. Let's back that up with legal protection.

Washington is an "open-carry" state, but with an oddball statutory provision that enables people who are offended by the sight of a firearm to have a law-abiding gun owner arrested under some circumstances on the grounds that it "warrants their alarm." Let's amend that statute to eliminate this trap. Open carry works fine in Vermont, Alaska, Arizona, Virginia and elsewhere, and our citizens are just as trustworthy as those in other states.

Let's protect citizens from the seizure of their firearms in times of natural disaster or state of emergency, as happened in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. In times of chaos and social breakdown, citizens must never be deprived of their self-defense tools.

Lastly, let's agree that law-abiding citizens have a constitutionally guaranteed civil right to own any kind of firearm they want, because the Second Amendment is not now, and never has been, about hunting or target shooting.

Dave Workman is senior editor at Gun Week (www.gunweek.com), and author of "Washington State Gun Rights and Responsibilities."

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