Gunning for problems in Seattle

For the first time in its decades-long history, a shooting incident erupted at Seattle's Folklife festival last month.

Mind you, this sort of thing goes on most any Saturday night in the city's South End. But those apparently don't count, because, well, you know, Those People are just like that. By contrast, gunshots among the largely white, affluent Folklife attendees sent the city's editorialists and politicians into high panic mode. Instead of an isolated incident - made possible because a guy with a history of mental illness who should never have been given a concealed weapons permit under existing law somehow got one - our city's poobahs decided this was somehow symptomatic of A Big Problem.

And so, a week later, we got what in the face of stiff competition may be the most idiotic proposal ever to emanate from the ample hindquarters of Mayor Greg Nickels: a proposal to ban concealed weapons on public property in Seattle.

Personally, I have no use for guns; I'd be just as happy to see them all beaten into ploughshares. An NRA member I'm not. But it's a measure of just how stupid this proposal is that it's leaving me actually defending people's rights to pack heat.

How stupid is it? Let's count:

* It's probably unconstitutional. The state constitution prohibits cities from enacting gun laws tougher than the state standard. Nickels argues that his proposal falls under a private property owner's well-established right to ban weapons on his or her property, but that's exactly the point: city property is public, not private. It may be federally unconstitutional, too. At the very minimum, the city (i.e., taxpayers) just bought itself an expensive lawsuit to defend.

* It wouldn't have prevented the Folklife shooting. Concealed weapons permits don't allow private gun owners to carry in some circumstances, including concerts and public gatherings. By carrying a concealed weapon at Folklife, the shooter was already violating the law. So why enact another law to do the same thing?

* It's unenforceable. Recognizing this, the city wouldn't itself actually enforce the ban. Instead, it'd hold the nonprofits who use city facilities for such events responsible for providing their own enforcement. Somehow. At their own cost. How is a free event like Folklife supposed to pay for fences and security checkpoints?

* It's a slippery slope. The law would apply to all public property, and, when asked if this meant setting up metal detectors at public parks, Nickels wouldn't rule it out. And, say, aren't streets and sidewalks public property, too?

So, on the one hand, we have a Nickels proposal that's illegal, useless, unenforceable, expensive and a serious infringement on civil liberties, all for a problem that isn't a problem. On the other hand: well, it sounds kinda good, and Nickels is up for re-election next year.

This is merely the latest in a long string of initiatives from Mayor Nickels that fit the definition of pandering (the operative word of which is exploit). Bashing nightclubs, declaring war on the homeless, evicting the poor without notice from run-down Aurora Avenue motels - even a moronic idea to ban beach bonfires due to their (negligible) contribution to global warming - all were designed as media-friendly solutions in search of problems. Or, in the case of Nickels' ongoing efforts to rid Seattle of poor people and the structures that house them, solutions in search of developer campaign contributions.

Unlike the homeless or hip-hop fans, however, gun owners tend to be both well-organized and well-funded. They'll shoot back, and City Hall knows it. Don't be surprised if this non-starter of a proposal dies a quiet death, having accomplished its primary goal: positive media coverage for the mayor.

Like certain current occupants of the White House, one of the characteristics of the Nickels administration is that everything is politicized, and it's all about getting more power for the executive branch in general and Nickels in particular. (Ever notice that most every city-owned vehicle has Nickels' name on it? Hizzoner/Boss/P.A.R.B. has requisitioned the entire city fleet as roving, permanent reelection billboards. What's next, giant adoring portraits of the Mayorissimo on downtown buildings?)

In a telling snapshot of Nickels' priorities, last week he hired former KING-TV reporter Robert Mak to be his chief PR person heading into 2009, and is paying him $10,000 a year more than the mayor himself earns. Spin, to Nickels, is worth more than the policy itself.

Expect more of these cheap proposals in the next year, as Nickels' November 2009 reelection looms. It's a familiar template: in the dubious service of some lofty goal (usually public safety or climate change), enact petty policies that use city government to harass people a lot of "ordinary" folks would like to see harassed.

The one thing Nickels won't provide, however, is the one thing the city most needs: A credible mayoral opponent in 2009.

Geov Parrish's may be reached at any of the addresses below.

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