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Originally published Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 4:11 PM

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Guest columnist

Sammamish park shooting underlines need for gun control

Two people were killed and four injured at a shooting earlier this month at Lake Sammamish State Park. Guest columnist Ralph Fascitelli argues the Legislature should increase gun-control measures to avoid similar incidents.

Special to The Times

THE recent tragic shooting at Lake Sammamish State Park once again illustrates that where there are guns, particularly when accompanied by alcohol, there is a much greater chance of death and violence. Contrary to the claims of the gun-rights groups, guns do kill people, and they do it very efficiently.

The tragedy at Lake Sammamish began with fisticuffs and escalated when someone fired shots in the air in an attempt to quell the fighting. In the span of a minute or so, dozens of shots were fired, and two people lay dead and four more were seriously injured.

It matters not that some of the victims may have been affiliated with gangs. These were two groups that were with family and friends out celebrating a sunny Seattle weekend. They didn't go looking for trouble. At least one of the victims had no prior record and was praised profusely as a good friend and family member.

Like so many other incidents of gun violence, our state elected officials will, in all likelihood, say all the right things but ultimately cower in fear of the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association, whose numbers represent about 1 percent of the population in this state. And after every shocking incident we often pigeonhole the victims as gang members or rave devotees or drug users even if they have clean records.

Our society wants to believe gun violence is somebody else's problem and not something that can happen to "law-abiding citizens." But it does; in actuality only 15 percent of gun deaths are "gang-related," as if this label alone condones the violence.

So what can be done to reduce the almost 600 annual gun deaths in Washington state and reduce the chances of another shooting like the one at Lake Sammamish.

• First let's ask our politicians in Olympia to ban guns in all state, county and city parks, where we have now seen more than once that a toxic combination of alcohol, firearms and elevated testosterone on a sunny day can have deadly consequences. Let's make our parks gun-free zones where families can gather with peace of mind without the worry of sudden death to innocent loved ones (and let's have our park rangers make spot checks to ensure that no one does indeed have a gun in their possession). State lawmakers can do this much easier than municipalities or county government due to the prevailing state law of pre-emption on gun legislation.

• Second, let's close the gun-show loophole and insist on mandatory background checks on all gun purchases. More than one-fourth of juvenile crimes involve guns procured from gun shows, according to a survey by the Portland Police Department. Insisting that felons, the mentally ill and underage juveniles do not have easy access to handguns or military assault weapons is not an infringement on Second Amendment rights.

• Finally, let's make it more difficult for people to get concealed-weapons permits or to openly carry loaded weapons. Currently there is no training, testing or registration required in procuring a concealed-weapons permit in this state, and no permit is required to openly carry a loaded weapon. Incredibly, it's legal to openly carry a loaded weapon in government buildings at the state Capitol and, yes, even at a Starbucks.

We need to cut through the emotional and irrational rhetoric about Second Amendments rights and find the middle ground between personal freedoms and public safety. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that law-abiding citizens have a right to own a gun and that state and local governments also have a right to enforce reasonable regulations. But any hope of a balanced gun policy in Washington state hinges on the public's acceptance that gun violence is everybody's problem and that effective steps can be taken to reduce its impact.

As the events at Lake Sammamish sadly proved once again, the presence of a gun in public parks can often mean the difference between mere fisticuffs and a funeral.

Ralph Fascitelli is president of the board for Washington Ceasefire.

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