Seattle Courant Archive

Six state legislators urge McKenna to weigh in on Seattle, other cities' rules

Six state legislators urge McKenna to weigh in on Seattle, other cities' rules

By Chris McGann
July 02, 2008

"The statement from us is that our districts are just a totally different culture, and it's a big part of our culture, people hunt and they carry their gun rights on their sleeve," said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam. "We represent people who are adamant about the Second Amendment of our Constitution and we try to represent them."

That's a stark contrast to urban Democrats who have for years been frustrated that so-called common sense gun control has been stymied despite the party's majority control in the Legislature.

"We just have a split on that," Kessler said. "I don't think it's contentious, it's just the way it is."

The request follows Friday's Supreme Court ruling that struck down the District of Columbia's ban on handguns, and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels' recent executive order to prohibit the possession of weapons, including firearms, on city property.

Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, represents the city of Montesano, which recently considered a similar ban.

"I'd like to know whether cities like Seattle can set aside the Bill or Rights when you walk onto city property," Van De Wege said.

"Public safety is important to us all, but it seems to me an outright ban infringes on the right of citizens to legally carry a gun."

"There are a lot of questions, but I would also like to know if state laws are being preempted by Seattle's mayor."

McKenna, who received a similar request from Republican lawmakers, says his office will provide a through analysis to lawmakers.

But he added in a statement that "while attorney general's opinions have historically been given 'great respect' and 'great weight' by the courts, they are not binding in any way. A final decision on the constitutionality of this ordinance needs to be rendered in the courts."

While Democrats generally support gun control, opposition from rural and swing district lawmakers largely quieted the legislative debate on the subject in Olympia.

Kessler said Democrats have avoided "hot button issues" that could fracture the caucus.

"Our hearts don't all beat as one, our districts aren't all the same and issues aren't all the same," she said. "I think it has kept us more cohesive as a result of staying away from some of these hot-button issues that really are district issues, not Democratic issues."

For example after a 2006 rampage on Capitol Hill in which a man fatally shot six people at a house party, the Legislature declined to bring up new gun control legislation, despite lobbying from Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske.

"There aren't enough votes in our caucus to get any kind of gun control bills out," Kessler said.

But the high court ruling and Seattle's continued push for gun control has apparently forced the issue to the surface.

Kessler, Van De Wege, Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, and Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, signed the letter to the attorney general.

They want to know if Nickels' executive order is pre-empted by federal or state law as well as the factors that would allow Seattle to implement policies prohibiting the possession of firearms on city property.

They also want to know, other than the exceptions provided under current law, under what conditions a city department would have the constitutional and/or statutory authority to prohibit a person from possessing a firearm on city property.

Nickels has directed city departments to come up with rules that would effectively prohibit guns on all city property, except those carried by law enforcement officers.

The high court's recent ruling in the D.C. gun case does not jeopardize that plan, said Regina LaBelle, counsel to the mayor.

In fact, the ruling affirmed that "The Second Amendment right is not unlimited, is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever, in any way whatsoever and for any purpose," LaBelle said.

Washington is a "shall issue" state, considered by many to have among the most lenient gun laws in the U.S. Almost all nonfelons have a right to carry a gun with a license, as long as they are over the age of 21.
P-I reporter Chris McGann can be reached at 360-943-3990 or Follow politics on the P-I's blog at