County law could change to allow guns in parks

As Seattle readies to defend in court its ban on guns at city parks, Snohomish County might move in the opposite direction.

If a new law passes, you could feel free to tote a legally owned firearm into county parks. Just don’t shoot it, unless it’s in self-defense.

County code, as it reads now, prohibits people from carrying or discharging guns in county parks.

Lifting the long-standing ban is mostly a house-keeping measure to bring the county in line with state law, said Councilman John Koster, who submitted the proposal earlier this month. An opinion from State Attorney General Rob McKenna supports his stance.

“You read through the attorney general’s opinion, it’s pretty darn strong,” Koster said. “The code is in conflict with state law.”

Crossbows, slingshots and fireworks would still be against the rules if the law changes in Snohomish County.

The issue is scheduled for discussion during a County Council operations committee meeting at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 7. A public hearing would take place before any vote.

Seattle’s ban has drawn national attention and a lawsuit from gun-rights groups.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who leaves office at the end of this year, pushed for that city’s new law after three people were shot by a Snohomish man during the 2008 Northwest Folklife Festival.

Seattle’s ban took effect at noon Oct. 16. It applies in areas where signs are posted.

“There has been no injunction, so we’re still rolling out the signs,” Nickels’ spokesman Alex Fryer said Tuesday. Seattle’s central argument is its right to impose conditions of use as a property owner, Fryer said.

On Oct. 28, the Second Amendment Foundation, the National Rifle Association and five people who use Seattle parks filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court challenging Seattle’s law through the state’s preemption statute.

That statute has been on the books since 1983 and was strengthened in 1985, said Dave Workman, Bellevue-based senior editor for the national newspaper “Gun Week.” The state law made any local gun bans unenforceable, he said.

“The Second Amendment Foundation would not have taken this to court,” said Workman, “if they weren’t absolutely sure that this statute (in Seattle) was illegal under the state preemption statute.”

He called the Seattle law “all flash and no substance” and said Koster’s move was “really the smart thing to do.”

Koster said the county might have to revisit the law if Seattle prevails in court, but doubted that would happen. He submitted his proposed ordinance earlier this month, he said, because constituents have been raising the issue for a few years.

“Some are pretty adamant about it, others are just bringing it to my attention,” he said.

An e-mail from a Monroe resident convinced that city to make similar changes in March, Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said. The City Council removed part of a city code that prohibited firearms from being carried in parks by anyone other than law enforcement.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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