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Originally published October 28, 2009 at 12:58 PM | Page modified October 28, 2009 at 10:44 PM

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NRA, others take aim at gun ban in Seattle parks

Four gun-rights organizations, including the National Rifle Association, are suing the city of Seattle and Mayor Greg Nickels over the new ban on guns in city parks.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Four gun-rights organizations, including the National Rifle Association, are suing the city of Seattle and Mayor Greg Nickels over the new ban on guns in city parks.

They were joined by five individuals, including two Department of Corrections workers who say they need to carry their personal weapons in city parks to protect themselves against criminals.

"The city is acting illegally in putting a ban into effect," said Alan Gottlieb, with the Second Amendment Foundation, and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court. "Lots of people in Seattle need firearms for self-protection."

Nickels has said the ban, which took effect this month, is intended to protect children and applies to city playgrounds, community centers, sports fields, swimming pools and water-play areas.

If someone with a gun enters one of those facilities, he or she will be asked by parks employees or Seattle police to leave. If the person won't leave, he or she could be cited or arrested for criminal trespass, according to the mayor's office.

The plaintiffs ask that the city not implement the new rule and be blocked from posting any more no-firearms signs.

Nickels has argued that state law does not prohibit a property owner from imposing conditions on possessing firearms on his or her property.

Nickels has said that 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 other young people are likely to be.

State Attorney General Rob McKenna, however, has disagreed, saying his office issued an opinion in 2008 which found that state law pre-empts local authority to adopt firearms regulations, unless specifically authorized by law.

Gottlieb said McKenna's opinion has been included as one of the exhibits in the lawsuit.

"It is an incontestable fact that the State of Washington has the exclusive right to regulate the possession of firearms in Washington," according to the lawsuit. "It is equally incontestable that cities in the state of Washington may not enact local laws or regulations that prohibit the possession of firearms on city property."

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

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The state is an "open-carry" state, and that doesn't require residents to have a concealed-weapons permit as long as the guns are in plain view. Guns are restricted from such places as schools, jails and mental institutions.

Gottlieb's group was joined in the lawsuit by the National Rifle Association, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and the Washington Arms Collectors.

The gun ban has become an issue in the mayor's race. Mike McGinn supports the ban and has attacked Joe Mallahan for questioning its legality and effectiveness.

Mallahan's spokeswoman, Charla Neuman, said Wednesday that the lawsuit was "disappointing, but not surprising."

At a debate Wednesday night, Mallahan said that knowing a law firm was taking the case pro bono met one of his big concerns.

The city said Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe will represent the city.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Winnie Chan, is a Department of Corrections employee who lives and works in Seattle. According to the suit, she often carries her personal concealed weapon when she is not on duty, because she worries that people she encounters in her line of work may retaliate against her. She said she enjoys visiting Seattle parks, but her favorite now has a no-weapons sign.

Another plaintiff, Ray Carter, is a past co-chairman of the Seattle Pride Parade. According to the lawsuit, he said he carries a concealed weapon because he feels, as an openly gay man, he is susceptible to becoming a victim of hate-related crimes.

And Gary Goedecke owns a business at the Pike Place Market and carries a weapon to work. He walks through Victor Steinbrueck Park.

In response to the suit, the city's law department issued a statement that said, in part: "the City's policy was put in place to protect our most vulnerable and defenseless citizens, our children. The City's most important public duty is to protect its citizens from harm, especially when they are visiting City facilities."

Staff reporter Emily Heffter contributed to this report. Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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