Last night the City Council passed an assault weapons ban resolution on Bainbridge Island, although it is perceived by supporters and opponents as largely symbolic as Washington State law preempts all regulations related to firearms. The vote was 5-1 in favor. Councilmember Ward opposed the resolution, and Mayor Bonkowski was absent because of a family health emergency.
Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos, who introduced the ban, said that, after the shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary, she and her colleagues heard from citizens asking the Council to do something. She said last night, “I’m not going to claim that this resolution has perfect language by any means. I admit I don’t know a lot about weapons. This is not a law, this is a spirit.” She stressed that she hoped this resolution would “encourage and demand” that lawmakers at the state and federal levels take action.
Hytopoulos said that “this is a local issue because, when these tragedies happen, that’s where it hurts.” She also said that citizen Doug Hatfield, who had spoken earlier in public commentary, had put it right when he called the resolution a “small step.” But, she said, “If it doesn’t come from the grassroots, it comes from nowhere. The NRA has a powerful lobby.”
She finished her comments by addressing the issue of assault-style weapons versus other types, such as those used for hunting. “The difference between killing 5 children and 30 children really matters. There are a lot of steps we need to take, but this is an essential step.”
Before the vote, Alan Kasper, President of the Bainbridge Island Sportsmen’s Club, stood up in public comment and read a written statement. He said that the tragedy of Sandy Hook had broken his heart but that the now-expired federal assault weapons ban is “old news” and resulted in no discernible reduction in violence. He emphasized that support for the resolution on Bainbridge is not universal.
Kasper said he was interviewed by King 5 News for an hour, but they didn’t report on the ideas he shared with them about what he believes would work to prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook. His list includes civil dialog, background checks for all transfers at gun shows, a national database of people who shouldn’t be allowed to have guns, challenging Hollywood to change their message about violence, armed guards in schools, education, and better treatment for the mentally ill. He said, “What this nation needs to do is the ‘right thing’ not just ‘something.’”
In the Council discussion preceding the vote, Councilmember Scales said he has “heard every argument pro and con.” He echoed Hytopoulos’s sentiment that this is a symbolic resolution. He also said that, among NRA supporters, there is a majority who support many of the restricting elements of the resolution.
Councilmember Blair spoke about how the many messages she received from the community on this issue had convinced her that, even as a nonpartisan elected official, she needed to choose a side on this issue. She said, “Taking a public stand on an issue like this at the local level is a move in the direction I want us to go.”
Councilmember Blossom said she had come to the meeting knowing little about guns, but “I realized just now that I know someone who had a gun that should not have had a gun.”
Councilmember Ward who said that, like Kasper, he is a gun owner who doesn’t own an assault weapon, repeated some of Kasper’s comments and voiced his opposition to the resolution.
A number of other citizens also spoke in public comment. David Stratton said that he feels this is a waste of councilmembers’ time and not their purview. He said, “Feel good on your own time and your own dollar.”
Lori Gilbert stood up to offer support of Councilmember Hytopoulos and the resolution. She disagreed with previous speakers, saying that, even if this measure wouldn’t solve all the problems, “We should start anywhere.” She said she had hosted a community meeting at Eagle Harbor Community Church at which there was widespread support for the ban.
Russ Berg, the only federally licensed firearm dealer on the Island, repeated what Kasper had said about the failure of the assault weapons ban, saying it “just gives us the illusion of safety.” He also criticized gun-free zones: “If somebody wants to go in there and shoot somebody, they’re going to do it. They don’t care about some sticker on the window.”
Doug O’Connor says all this will accomplish is “to separate a large number of citizens who own guns . . . from the rest of society.” He says that it tells him that he, an active member of the community, is now not to be trusted. He asked that the Council not even vote on the matter.
Gloria Sayler, a mental health practitioner, said that regardless of whether the ban is perfect or not, it should be enacted. She quoted Lincoln: “The perfect can sometimes interfere with the good.”
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Photo by Brian nairB.