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Originally published August 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 25, 2008 at 9:02 AM

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Mayor Nickels holds off on Seattle gun ban

As summer began, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said he was taking steps to prohibit guns on all city-owned property after three people were injured in a shooting at Northwest Folklife. But as Bumbershoot approaches this weekend, no prohibition has taken effect.

Seattle Times staff reporter

As summer began, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said he was taking steps to prohibit guns on all city-owned property after three people were injured in a shooting at Seattle Center's Northwest Folklife festival.

But as the Center's summer festival season concludes with Bumbershoot this weekend, no prohibition has taken effect.

"It's very complex. The city owns numerous properties citywide and in some areas outside of the city," said Regina LaBelle, legal counsel for the mayor. "We are going through all of those properties and developing a legally defensible rule."

In the state Legislature, representatives and senators have asked state Attorney General Rob McKenna to issue an informal legal opinion on whether state law pre-empts Nickels' executive order. That opinion may be ready by the end of September.

McKenna's office says such nonbinding opinions have historically been given great weight by the courts.

Also, the Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, both based in Bellevue, have notified Nickels they intend to mount a legal challenge to the executive order.

On Memorial Day weekend, Clinton Chad Grainger, a Snohomish man with a history of drug addiction and schizophrenia, fired a gun during a fight at the music festival, wounding three other people. Grainger, who this month pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree assault, had a concealed-weapon permit.

Two weeks after the shooting, Nickels signed an executive order directing city departments to report back within 30 days with a plan on how to make city facilities — parks, Seattle Center, community centers, buildings — gun free. They have reported back, and the mayor's office is now drafting an administrative rule.

The mayor said the city eventually would post signs prohibiting guns, which has yet to happen. The city wouldn't be able to arrest people for violating the policy, but it could charge violators with trespassing. Law-enforcement officials would be exempt.

Many immediately questioned whether the city could pre-empt state law governing firearms. In Washington state, cities cannot go beyond state law restricting firearms.

Nickels believes the door for exceptions was opened by a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling case involving the city of Sequim. The court ruled that Sequim could regulate gun sales at a show held at a city-owned miniconvention center.

State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, is one of the legislators requesting the opinion from the attorney general.

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"It's not like we're picking at Seattle, but I think we would have numerous jurisdictions having numerous different rules and it would create great confusion," he said.

In his district, Van De Wege said, the city of Montesano in Grays Harbor County tried to pass a local law restricting firearms, which was vetoed by the mayor there.

LaBelle said the city plans to hold a public hearing on the issue, but no date has been set.

"We're trying to ensure the safety of the residents of the city and visitors to the city," she said. "We're taking what we believe are common-sense steps to do that."

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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