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Originally published January 5, 2010 at 10:01 PM | Page modified January 5, 2010 at 10:02 PM

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Danny Westneat

Gun guy packs heat in message

I'm not sure what people in Rainier Valley were expecting to hear from the Seattle mayor's gun adviser, Mark Pursley.

Seattle Times staff columnist

I'm not sure what people in Rainier Valley were expecting to hear from the Seattle mayor's gun adviser, Mark Pursley. But it probably wasn't this:

That he, Pursley, owns two guns, a Glock 9-millimeter and a pump-action shotgun.

That he's a member of the National Rifle Association.

And that he believes there's no way to stop Americans from continuing to buy guns so powerful and destructive, they could potentially bring down a jet from a mile and a half away.

"I'm not here to take away people's guns," Pursley, 48, told the Rainier Valley Rotary Club on Tuesday, in a talk on "Reducing Gun Violence in Rainier Valley." "The Second Amendment means what it says — we have the right as Americans to bear arms."

This is former Mayor Greg Nickels' gun guy? The one Nickels hired so Seattle could be a leader on gun issues at a time the federal and state governments seem paralyzed?

Yes, it is. And as Pursley goes around the state he finds himself criticized or prejudged almost everywhere he goes.

Some in the Rainier Valley audience came at him from the left.

"How could he be in charge of Seattle's gun-prevention programs?" wondered Peter Masundire, a Democratic activist in South Seattle. "He basically gives an NRA presentation."

Others come from the right. When he visits Eastern Washington, Pursley says the initial reaction is: "You're here to push your liberal Seattle agenda on us, aren't you?"

Dave Workman, editor of Gun Week magazine in Bellevue, even ridicules Pursley's title, which is "Gun Violence Prevention Coordinator" for Seattle's Office of Intergovernmental Relations.

"There is no such thing as 'gun violence,' " Workman wrote about Pursley's efforts. "There is just violence. The term 'gun violence' is an inflammatory invention of the anti-gun lobby and its media cheerleaders who merely want to demonize guns and associate them with 'violence.' "

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Pursley says somewhere in this heat is what he's after. The center.

"How about we put aside all the Second Amendment arguments and set this goal — that criminals, the mentally ill and kids should have no access to guns," he says. "That's the debate we should be having."

Pursley isn't a lifelong gun advocate. He bought his first one in the 1990s, when he was director of the Boys & Girls Club in White Center. There were so many shootings he worried about his safety, until a local deputy advised him to buy a shotgun.

"I don't hunt," he says. "The only reason I own firearms is for personal protection."

Pursley says he's in the NRA because "they believe in the same fundamental right I believe in."

He thinks most gun-control measures won't do much good — including, surprisingly, the one pushed by his former boss, Nickels, and endorsed by his new boss, Mayor Mike McGinn. The one banning guns from city parks.

On the other hand, he says it's frustrating there's no way even to compile much data about guns. That's because the gun lobby has pushed to bar government from having databases about the sale or location of guns.

Pursley also tells about a police chief who moved here recently from out of state who said he was "astonished" at this state's lax gun laws.

"You can carry a shotgun over your shoulder down the streets of Seattle, no permit needed," Pursley said. "I'm not arguing that the rules are perfect as they are."

This guy is well to the right of me. As I've said in the past, I think there's a right to own guns but they should be regulated at least as rigorously as cars, with mandatory training, licenses and registration.

But when Pursley talks about what he thinks we should do — get far tougher on any gun-related crime, such as juveniles caught with a handgun, and much more aggressive about tracking guns, collecting information on them and confiscating them from people with violent tendencies or mental instability — I say: Why not? Can't we at least start with that?

"I don't know, I dislike politics intensely," Pursley says. Adding that he doesn't speak for Seattle — that's the job of the mayor and City Council.

He thinks that when he was hired nobody knew he was an NRA member. Now that we know, this guy probably won't last long down at City Hall.

But I like that he isn't liked by either side. Guns have long been the deadest of dead-end debates. The extremes have it in a stranglehold.

Maybe his course — up the middle — would actually lead somewhere.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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