Gun laws should be put to work
More gun laws needed? Maybe. But how about enforcing the ones we have?
Seattle Times staff columnist
Since Seattle erupted into its year of living violently, police and other leaders have said that the root of the problem is about guns more than gangs.
There are too many guns, along with too few gun laws, they say.
Drawing special ire has been the state law that prevents Seattle from drafting its own, stricter gun-control rules than the rest of state.
Well, we now think we know who killed Justin Ferrari, the father of two who was shot randomly while driving through the Central Area. It was a gang member, police allege.
Two leaders of that gang had been arrested only three months before the shooting for illegal possession of guns, yet escaped punishment or got off with a slap on the wrist.
Police say those two were out there on the corner when Ferrari was killed.
The gang is no household name. It's called "31 R.A.C.K.S." — the 31 standing for 31st Avenue in Madrona, the rest for Running After Cash Killin Suckaz. Police say in court documents they hung out at the corner of East Cherry Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, where Ferrari was shot on May 24th.
Andrew Patterson, 20, was charged last week with Ferrari's murder. But witnesses have placed the two other gang members at the scene as well. All three can be seen in YouTube videos highlighting what they call the 31 R.A.C.K.S. "lifestyle," mostly drinking or smoking in parks and warily monitoring police.
People who live in this neighborhood, near Garfield High School, probably remember well an evening in late February when dozens of gunshots echoed across the grounds of the school. Police found the shooters hiding on the roof of Medgar Evers Pool. That was 31 R.A.C.K.S.
Police arrested three men after finding they had handguns in their waistbands, with no concealed-weapon permits. Police say one of the guns was stolen.
What ended up happening to them? Nothing much. A leader of the gang did plead guilty in May, but only to a misdemeanor of carrying a gun onto school grounds. He got probation and no jail time.
Given this, do we need new gun laws? Maybe. But we definitely ought to start enforcing the ones we already have.
I get that it can be tricky to prove a case in court. Sometimes serious charges get converted to lighter ones, because that's all the justice system can get.
But what hope do we have of stemming gun violence if blasting off a bunch of rounds with illegal guns, at 10:20 p.m. at a high school in a crowded city, essentially warrants zero punishment?
Even at the low end of the sentencing range for illegal gun possession, the shooters could have been locked up for 90 days. They weren't even locked up for one.
Patterson wasn't there the night of the Garfield shooting, but he, too, had been arrested previously for illegal gun possession. He also had been ordered by a court in an assault case to carry no guns. He got no punishment either.
As to whether we have a gang problem, the police are the experts on that.
But there have been at least six more shootings this summer within a 10-block radius of the corner where Ferrari was killed. All involved multiple gunshots, and three were drive-bys.
The most recent is typical of what's going on. On July 7, someone drove by at 4:30 a.m. and strafed a dozen .40-caliber bullets into a house on 27th Avenue, hitting a man in the leg in the living room. Three weeks earlier there was another drive-by on the same block, at a house police said is home to a known gang member.
On that one night there were two other shootings nearby that the police say may have been retaliatory.
This sure seems like a gang problem to me. We should call it such, so we can combat it, both with police work as well as renewed violence-prevention programs.
As for more gun laws, I wonder: What's the point if we don't use the ones we have?
Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Danny Westneat
Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to email@example.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
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