Koster renews effort to lift gun ban in county parks

EVERETT — Snohomish County Councilman John Koster has renewed a bid to repeal the county’s current ban on guns at county parks, two months after a similar effort failed.

Washington state law currently allows guns in all but a few specific places such as jails, courtrooms, commercial airports and liquor stores. The state law also says cities and counties cannot enact firearms laws that are more restrictive than the state’s.

Koster’s council colleagues in January balked at changing the rules to bring the county in line with the state. In explaining their reasoning, they cited safety concerns and pending lawsuits over a gun ban at Seattle parks. Koster is a Republican and his four colleagues are Democrats.

Council Chairman Dave Gossett said Tuesday the county would have to answer two major questions when the issue comes up again.

“Do we want to wait for an appeal (in court) or do we want to act?” Gossett asked. “The second question is what do we want state law to be? Do we really want people packing shotguns in county parks?”

Koster responded to his colleagues’ concerns by saying, “But the state law is the state law.

“If you want to change the state law,” he said, “you’ll have to wait until the next session” of the Legislature in 2011.

At its regular general legislative session a week from today, councilmen are expected to schedule a public hearing on the issue.

During the past two months, state and federal courts have reached differing conclusions about Seattle’s firearms prohibition.

A federal judge this month dismissed a lawsuit attacking Seattle’s ban on constitutional grounds. A King County Superior Court judge in February, however, ruled Seattle’s attempt to bar guns at parks “null and void” because it contradicts state law. The judge ordered Seattle officials to take down signs saying guns aren’t allowed in parks.

“We had 116 signs up and they’re all gone,” said Dewey Potter, a spokeswoman for Seattle parks. “We will recycle them.”

Snohomish County’s prohibition on guns in parks dates to 1971. The state passed its law in the 1980s preempting stricter local firearms rules.

The proposed ordinance would not allow people to shoot guns on or across county parkland, with two exceptions: when the parks department specifically permits shooting, such as for a competition; or when the weapon is used for self-defense or to protect others.

The more recent version of the proposed ordinance is similar, but not identical to the previous one.

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

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