More than 120 citizens, many wearing orange in honor of gun violence awareness, appealed to the Kirkland City Council last week to address safety in their community.
Indivisible Kirkland has been collaborating with KirklandSafe since mid-March — following the Parkland, Florida shooting on Feb. 14 — to draft a framework for a gun safety resolution, said member Heather McKnight.
About 750 people signed a petition to ask their elected officials to consider organizing community events, adding gun safety to the city’s legislative agendas and promoting educational programs on gun rights and responsibilities, suicide prevention, safe storage of firearms, domestic violence protections, active shooter response trainings and more.
McKnight said she expected a unanimous vote on the resolution, which would “demonstrate each council member’s commitment to public safety and to keeping Kirkland a safe, inclusive and welcoming community,” and because it is a nonpartisan issue.
The resolution, which was approved 6-0 by council at its May 1 meeting, authorizes city staff to engage the community on gun safety and report back by July 17. The city is planning to host a town hall in early June.
Council member Toby Nixon said community members across the political spectrum and on all sides of the gun control debate should be invited to comment, and that Kirkland could become a model for other communities on how to have a civil discussion about guns.
“We need to get past just shouting at each other and not making any progress,” he said. “We need to really listen to each other to try to truly understand each other’s fears and hopes, to seek common ground and to come up with some consensus proposals that are actually achievable and have a realistic chance of being implemented, to improve safety and security.”
The federal and state constitutions provide certain rights to keep and bear arms, and many Kirkland residents legally own firearms for reasons such as hunting, recreation and personal protection, according to the resolution.
“Input from all community members, including gun owners, is necessary to promote safe and responsible gun ownership in order to reduce mass shootings, homicides, suicides and accidental shootings,” the resolution continues.
Mayor Amy Walen agreed that the process needs to be open to all stakeholders and would like to involve the school district, law enforcement personnel and mental health professionals in the dialogue. She said she was proud of the community’s advocacy on the issue.
“There are definitely some things we can do to make ourselves a safer community and that’s pretty much the fundamental job of city government,” she said.
In January 2017, Walen issued a proclamation declaring the city’s intent to be a safe, inclusive and welcoming community and promote a community conversation about those values.
Over the next few months, city manager Kurt Triplett will “seek the community’s input on the topic of gun safety and community safety through a town hall and additional engagement strategies; research methods of promoting safe and responsible gun ownership at the state and local levels; collaborate with public and private partners on possible state and local legislation around gun safety and community safety; and report the results of these efforts to the City Council,” according to the resolution.
The issues of gun safety and school safety have been around for decades, but the tragic killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, reignited the debate in communities around the nation, including in Kirkland, according to the council’s agenda bill.
The idea for a resolution to “Save Lives through Gun Safety” was first introduced during public comment at the April 17 council meeting, during which a resident acknowledged that “guns are a part of our culture and that while we may not solve for ideological differences, we can take action locally,” McKnight said.
Indivisible Kirkland, KirklandSafe and a diverse coalition of gun safety supporters, including gun owners and veterans, attended the last council session to visibly demonstrate community support for the resolution and the council taking action, McKnight said.
There have been other recent meetings about gun violence and school safety.
On March 14, the council welcomed more than 70 parents from various Kirkland schools to City Hall to discuss potential actions that could be taken to keep students safe from gun violence. A week later, Lake Washington School District and the city co-hosted a community discussion about school safety and community action.
On April 20, seven students from Kamiakin Middle School participated in a national walk out in recognition of the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting and went to City Hall to request that Kirkland take action to protect students from gun violence.
The events demonstrate the community’s interest, according to the city, but there are significant constitutional and legal constraints around what can be done locally.
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Section 24 of the Washington State Constitution states “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.”
State law also provides for the “preemption” of almost all firearms regulations by the state of Washington.
On March 6, the city attorney provided the council with a short briefing on the state preemption. He also highlighted some actions the city has taken where it does have authority, such as the policy to destroy any guns seized by police that are not needed as evidence.
The council is planning to take community feedback into consideration as it plans for the 2019 legislative agenda setting process and 2019-20 biennial budget.
See www.kirklandwa.gov for more.