by Dave Workman
Billed as a forum on reducing firearms violence in Washington states most populous county, a recent gathering with national overtones in Bellevue, WA, is being eyed suspiciously by local firearm civil rights activists.
The SafeCities Partnership Forum was held to bring national recognition to the King County, WA, Firearms Crime Coalition. It was attended by mayors and police chiefs from across the country.
Jointly sponsored by city of Seattle and King County officials, the event was an offshoot of the SafeCities Network, inaugurated in 1999 by Vice President Al Gore. This program was designed to help link cities and communities across the country so that they can share best practices and ensure the safety and security of our nations streets.
Fort Worth, TX, Mayor Kenneth Barr, and Boston, MA, Police Commissioner Paul Evans were invited. Attorney General Janet Reno was scheduled to offer brief remarks in a recorded message.
While the forum had national implicationsbecause the King County Coalition is being promoted as a model for other such efforts around the countryJoe Waldron, executive director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA), remains concerned that it could be used as a launching pad for anti-gun measures aimed squarely at destroying the Evergreen States landmark pre-emption law.
However, King County Sheriff Dave Reichert told Gun Week that the Coalitions work is aimed only at enforcing existing gun laws, getting armed criminals off the streets and leaving honest gunowners alone.
Those people who are responsible gunowners, Reichert observed, theyre not the bad guys. They have a right to own and bear arms. What were saying is Lets deal with people who illegally possess a weapon and . . .who are out there committing crimes.
Reichert aide Scott Sotebeer said that in the two years hes been attending Coalition meetings the subject of gun control legislation has never come up.
Yet Waldron remains skeptical.
I would be very surprised if the mayor of Seattle does not use this as a bully pulpit from which to launch a campaign to destroy state pre-emption, Waldron said. If that happens, I see the floodgates opening for a rush of local gun control ordinances in Washington state cities.
Seattles mayor is Paul Schell, a liberal Democrat and gun control advocate. Widely known as the mayor who presided over Seattles WTO debacle in 1999, Schell appeared at a press briefing within hours of a highly publicized shipyard shooting that same year, using the tragedy to demand tougher gun laws.
Washington was one of the first states to pass a modern pre-emption law, signed by then Gov. Booth Gardner, a Democrat, in 1985. On several occasions gun control proponents have unsuccessfully tried to undo that law.
Ironically, CCRKBA is headquartered in Bellevue, not far from the Meydenbauer Center, where the Dec. 1 forum was held.
The SafeCities program was created under the auspices of Gores Partnership for Reinventing Government. SafeCities communities are scattered around the country. They include Atlantic City, NJ, Inglewood, CA, Springfield, MA, the cities of Detroit, Flint, Inkster and Highland Park, MI; Louisville, KY, Miami, FL, High Point, NC, and one county: Washingtons King, where the current controversy is centered.
However, the King County effort, which began in March 1998, actually preceded SafeCities. The King County Firearms Crime Coalition brought together city, county, state and federal agencies. The Coalitions thrust, according to William Dickinson, chair of the King County Police Chiefs Association, has always been to explore every available avenue we could pursue with the resources we have at our disposal, to reduce and prevent firearm crimes in King County.
A version of the King County plan has already been adopted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The plan has also been distributed throughout Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) district offices.
Reichert said the Dec. 1 forum was to be the first time that we know of, anywhere in the country, that all the law enforcement administrators and their mayors (would be) together to meet at one time in one place to talk about gun crime.
But what sets the King County Coalition apart from other so-called gun violence forums is that from the onset, participation was strictly limited to the law enforcement community. Neither pro- nor anti-gun organizations were invited.
There has been no expressed interest among coalition members to push additional gun control legislation, Dickinson insisted.
Our viewpoint is to hammer offenders who use firearms in the commission of a crime ... . If there are any other political agendas that are being attached to this, I am not aware of it, Dickinson said.
SafeCities mayors have reportedly conducted bi-weekly conference calls, and have also shared their strategies with the US Conference of Mayors. That organization, along with 23 individual mayors around the country, is the target of a federal lawsuit filed by the Second Amendment Foundation.
That action was in direct response to a spate of municipal lawsuits filed against the firearms industry in 1999. SAF founder Alan Gottlieb took the action on behalf of consumers, whose access to firearms, and their ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights, is being seriously threatened by those mayoral lawsuits.
Meanwhile, SafeCities efforts have included working with the national Gun Safe Storage campaign, and a Gun Violence Reduction Summit in Inglewood, CA.
Under the SafeCities program, several strategies to combat gun violence have been advanced, including effective prosecution, working with faith-based organizations, after-school programs and crime gun tracing.
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