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Originally published September 18, 2009 at 12:04 PM | Page modified September 20, 2009 at 12:07 AM

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Mayor proposes gun ban at city-park facilities

Mayor Greg Nickels proposed a ban on guns in city-parks facilities frequented by children.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Public can respond

To comment on Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels' proposal to ban guns from city-park facilities, go to www.seattle.gov/firearmsrule or mail your thoughts to Seattle Parks and Recreation Department, 100 Dexter Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98103. Comments will be taken until Oct. 4.

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Mayor Greg Nickels has proposed a ban on guns in city-park facilities, specifically to protect children, and the move has already drawn fire from gun-rights advocates and questions about its legality.

The prospective ban, announced Friday, would cover playgrounds, community centers, sports fields, swimming pools and water-play areas.

The new proposal is not as far-reaching as Nickels' failed effort last year to ban guns from all city facilities after a shooting at Northwest Folklife Festival at Seattle Center. Nickels said signs would be posted notifying the public about the gun ban.

"These are the places where our children and families gather, and it is common sense that community centers, playgrounds and swimming pools are safer without guns," he said.

The mayor says state law does not prohibit a property owner from imposing conditions on the possession of firearms on his or her property.

According to Nickels, the city believes a municipal property owner such as Seattle may impose limits on firearms as a condition of entry or use of particular facilities, particularly those where children and youth are likely to be.

But state Attorney General Rob McKenna disagrees. In a statement Friday, he said he has a history of working to protect children's safety, but "as Mayor Nickels is aware, the Attorney General's Office issued an opinion in 2008, which found that state law pre-empts local authority to adopt firearms regulations, unless specifically authorized by law.

"Mayor Nickels is welcome to request legislation to change state law, but current state law pre-empts a city's authority to pass local laws prohibiting the firearms possession on city property or in city-owned facilities."

Nickels' proposal was immediately condemned by Alan Gottlieb, with the pro-gun Second Amendment Foundation.

"This must be Greg Nickels' desperate parting shot at gun owners who worked hard to make sure that he not survive the primary election last month," he said. "The proposal is blatantly illegal."

Gottlieb said his group already has plaintiffs who will sue if Nickels' proposal is implemented.

Nickels said the ban would not change city law, so it would carry no criminal or civil penalties. Violators would be evicted from parks under the criminal-trespass law.

Gottlieb said Nickels has no right to invoke the trespass law. "He's a two-time loser," he said. "Half the households in Seattle own firearms."

The National Rifle Association did not return calls for comment.

According to the state Department of Licensing, there are 238,994 concealed-weapons permits in the state, 48,838 in King County.

The gun-ban proposal would affect 26 community centers, four environmental-learning centers, 10 pools, 30 wading pools, two small-craft centers, two specialized centers, 139 playgrounds, 213 ballfields, six late-night recreation sites, three teen-life centers and 82 outdoor tennis and basketball courts.

According to the city, more than 1.8 million people visited and attended programs in city-park facilities last year.

More than 108,000 children visited wading pools, and more than 59,000 events were scheduled at sports fields.

In 2008, the city introduced a policy requiring organizations that lease Seattle Center and other city property to take steps to prohibit guns, such as providing lockboxes at Seattle Center. Nickels says that lease policy will become an executive order, which means it doesn't need legislative approval. It will affect tenants such as One Reel.

Nickels has urged state lawmakers to ban assault weapons, require criminal-background checks at gun shows and require trigger locks and safe storage of firearms to reduce gun violence.

According to the mayor's office, state law restricts possession of firearms in schools, courts, jails and areas that serve alcohol, but it does not prevent them in parks.

The city would authorize parks staff to inform people of the rule.

If the parks department adopts Nickels' proposal, the changes could take effect as early as October, once the signs are posted.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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