Guns, dogs and the cost of sickness

We've talked here before about guns. The ease of acquiring assault rifles and handguns - two weapons really only good for killing people and holding up banks and stores - in this culture.

I've explained that I am not a gun-hater and that I qualified with both sidearms and the M-16 in Basic Training lo those many years ago (1966).

We've also spoken here about my belief that hunters should have one or two hunting rifles, and that law-abiding folks should have a home-protection weapon like a shotgun if they feel the fearful need.

But none of those prefaces to the following statements are ever enough for the gun-nut lobby, convinced that they have a constitutionally questionable right to be armed to the teeth.

What brings all this up again is a story in the April 25 Seattle Times, where current police chief Gil Kerlikowske is quoted as being surprised at "the unprecedented level" of firearms incidents resulting in death and maiming recently in our allegedly safe, yuppified city.

There was, of course, the tragic Capitol Hill shooting when a Montana misfit killed multiple innocent people with the same two guns that had been taken away from him back home in the Rockies in 2000, after he used them to destroy public art by gunfire.

Happily this misfit butcher saved all of us hundreds of thousands of dollars in court costs, not to mention millions to keep him locked up for two or three decades after conviction, by killing himself before he could be arrested.

If only he would have done that deed before whacking out a house full of innocents.

Then there came the most-recent (of multiple) multiple shootings in our own neighborhood at the infamous Mr. Lucky down by Key Arena.

That was followed by the April 23 shooting of an innocent African student sitting on a couch at a house party in Lake City.

At last check no arrests had been made in either the Mr. Lucky or Lake City shootings.

That means folks with no compunction about shooting into crowded environments full of innocent people are still out there packing, along with at least 200,000 other folks - in King County alone - who have never had to take test to own a killing weapon.

Unless you live in rural Idaho, Wyoming or Montana, you no longer hunt your protein on the hoof anywhere outside of Larry's meat department. But you can get a gun as easily as your teenager can pick up a cellphone at Bartell's or Radio Shack.

There's something wrong with a culture where you have to go to school for a few weeks to sell a house, but you can pick up a gun as easily as I pick up a loaf of bread.

So when our esteemed police chief expresses surprise at the so-called "unprecedented level" of gun violence, he is playing cutesy with the truth. The amazing thing is that gun violence in Seattle has been going down, from a high of 70 or so in the early '90s to 30 or so homicides in recent years.

No one really knows why, although everyone involved in the justice system has a self-serving theory.

As someone who made his reportorial bones covering murders in Cincinnati for almost a decade, I have talked to many, many line cops and homicide detectives about fluc-tuating murder rates. Cincinnati's were lower than Seattle's 12 years ago; now, in the midst of turf and drug wars, they have climbed from high-30s to near-70 while ours were going down.

Cops not talking for publication will tell you they really don't know why murder rates go up and down. What they do know, because they look at the bodies, is that an overwhelming number of America's murder victims are shot to death, often by people who could not pass a driving test or pick up a realty license.

We have too many guns, and they are too easy to obtain. And as long as money motivates everything we do as a culture, from Halliburton's financial raping of Iraq in a so-called rebuild, to losers like Kyle Huff killing innocent people because they themselves are failures at life, we will continue to see innocent people die for no reason other than they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We need to work at vigilantly controlling access to firearms at least as intensely as the F.B.I. works at listening to the private phone calls of the citizenry.

IN A SCARY LITTLE news item buried way back in the local (B) section of The Seattle Times the other day, an un-bylined story told the tale of a 14-year-old Federal Way boy who tried to hang a dog. A neighbor saw the attempted canine lynching and rescued the dog. The teenager was arrested for animal cruelty and then released to his parents.

It should be noted for the record that Ted Bundy and many other serial killers began their nefarious killing careers by torturing animals.

The violent cruelty to animals exhibited by someone who tried to hang a dog is one of the strongest signs of serious problems, usually for young women, down the road.

Here's hoping the Federal Way authorities don't let this potentially murderous kid go without inten- sive therapy and maybe some serious down time at a juvenile detention center.

After all, we in the Northwest should have some clue about serial killers.

Bundy and Gary Ridgway are only two of a small squadron of serial killers who either started here or plied their murderous trade in our environs for years or, in Ridgway's case, for decades before being caught.

Reporter friends back East have asked me for years why this area has a disproportionate number of serial killers. I have never been able to come to any firm conclusions.

But any kid who is trying to hang the family dog is someone who bears close watching. And maybe that's it: In Cincinnati, that harsher environment where I originated, no one would say, "Oh, that poor boy must have had a terrible childhood." Here, in LaLa Lotusland, that type of excuse-making is par for the course. Native Northwesterners tend to quake at expressing a firm opinion about anything other than the Mariners.

Being too nice is ultimately as ineffective a public policy as being too mean.

WE HAVE ALSO talked here often about the horrifying (to me) fact that in the United States healthcare, like luxury automobiles, is growing farther and farther out of the reach of more and more Americans. At least 50 million Americans, many of them children, have no health insurance.

Now, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, things are getting worse, not better.

Listen to Paul Ginsberg, an economist and president of The Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan group located in Washington, D.C.:

"When spending on health care goes up faster than earnings, lower-paid people are priced out of the health-insurance market."

Total healthcare spending is estimated to be rising at catastrophic rates.

The previously mentioned CMMS report estimated that healthcare costs, now at $6,683 per person, will rise to about $12,320 per person in 2015. This while advocates keep calling for a lower minimum wage and the spending of public monies for sports venues nobody but a few rich people profit from while local low-cost health clinics' budgets are cut.

WHICH LEAVES US with our ever-expanding mayor, Li'l Greg, who made a big public fuss about the Sonics' demand for almost $200 million to fix up that rundown, shoddy old KeyArena, and then turned around and asked the state to pass a tax bill forcing citizens to pay for the Sonics' expansion.

A team that can't even get its share of rebounds evidently can't pay a fair share of its own house's remodel either.

I would say that anyone who votes for one penny of public monies to help billionaire Howard Schultz build bigger backboards should be hounded out of office. Starting with Greg, I-Never-Met-A-Billionaire-I-Didn't-Like Nickels.

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