Senseless in Seattle

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On February 12, Judge Catherine Shaffer of King County Superior Court threw out Seattle’s ban on carrying a gun at a city park, golf course, community center, beach, or pool.

The gun ban was proclaimed on October 14, 2009, by the Parks superintendent, Timothy Gallagher. He said he was doing it to protect children — an argument that went over fairly well in a city that votes 85% Democrat.

The State of Washington’s Republican attorney general, Rob McKenna, said that Washington’s law created a statewide right to carry a gun, and that behind the statute was the state’s 1889 constitution, which guarantees “the right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself.”

Seattle’s lame-duck mayor, Greg Nickels, didn’t care about that. He backed his parks superintendent, arguing that the city had the right to set the rules for its own property.

Across Lake Washington, in the less liberal suburb of Bellevue, is the Second Amendment Foundation, run by Alan Gottlieb. Seattle liberals hate Gottlieb, because he does things like file lawsuits in favor of gun rights which in this case he had threatened to do and immediately did. His lawsuit listed as plaintiffs Winnie Chan, 36, a state parole officer who said she needed protection from criminals who knew her; and Ray Carter, 44, founder of the Seattle Chapter of Pink Pistols/Cease Fear, who said he feared a hate crime because he is openly gay. These were just the sort of plaintiffs you’d want for King County Superior Court, which tends strongly to judicial liberalism. In any event, the law on guns was what the Republican attorney general said it was, and so Seattle’s antigun rule went down.

Six days later, Parks Superintendent Gallagher made another effort to protect citizens from imminent danger. He announced a new rule: tobacco smoking would be banned in all Seattle parks as “a health measure to protect people from secondhand smoke” and to set a good example to children. The ban covered chewing tobacco as well. It did not cover marijuana use, a crime for which the Seattle city attorney no longer prosecutes.

There was an outcry against the no-smoking rule, with citizens posting objections on the web page of the Seattle Times. That evening the city announced the ban was modified. People could continue to ingest their nicotine in parks as long as they were 25 feet away from other people. Said Gallagher: “Based on the input from the public that followed my initial decision, I have decided that a gradual approach to a smoking ban is reasonable.”

The Parks Department also considered a ban on spit- ting in the park — the kind of ban traditionally advocated by public health officials as part of the effort to prevent contagious diseases — but department officials decided against it. They did not want people accusing them of creating a nanny state.

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