Candidates for governor, attorney general talk guns
In the wake of the recent Colorado movie-theater massacre, The Seattle Times interviewed candidates for governor and state attorney general about their views on gun regulations.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — Republican Attorney General candidate Reagan Dunn is a gun collector, hunter and sport shooter. His Democratic opponent, Bob Ferguson, says he's never fired a gun, much less owned one.
Among the gubernatorial candidates, Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee learned to handle guns growing up, but they say they haven't gone shooting in years.
In the wake of the recent Colorado movie-theater massacre, which followed the shootings at Seattle's Cafe Racer in late May, America's relationship with firearms is again under debate.
Near Denver, 12 people died and 58 were wounded at the hands of shooter who used an AR-15 assault-style rifle, among other weapons. The gunman in Seattle used a handgun to kill four people at Cafe Racer and a fifth on First Hill.
The Seattle Times last week interviewed the leading candidates for governor and state attorney general about their personal history with guns, as well their views on gun regulations.
Ferguson was the only candidate who wouldn't spell out his opinions on gun control.
All the candidates said they support the rights of people to legally own and use guns.
Here are some highlights from the interviews.
History with guns
Three of the four candidates have had some experience with firearms.
Inslee, a former congressman, said he hunted a little while growing up and went sport shooting occasionally. "I've been to a gun range a couple of times when I was a teenager," he said. "I did own a .22 (caliber) rifle in my teen years."
McKenna, the state attorney general, said he did not hunt growing up but learned to shoot in the Boy Scouts and has enjoyed recreational shooting, including skeet. However, he said has not gone shooting for several years "just for lack of time."
He owns a shotgun that belonged to his grandfather. "It has a lot of significance and sentimental value," he said.
Dunn, who has a concealed-weapon permit, stands out as the candidate with the most experience with guns. A sport shooter, he owns around 30 firearms, ranging from muzzleloaders to an AR-15 rifle, and he keeps them locked in gun safes.
"You name it, I've got it," said Dunn, a Metropolitan King County Council member. "I'm not going to hide. My hobby is collecting guns and target practice and everything else. It is what it is."
The AR-15, he said, is "a sporting rifle. Mostly for range shooting. It's an accurate weapon at a long distance. For me, I enjoy a fairly sizable collection of guns. That represents the more modern sporting end of the spectrum."
Ferguson, also a Metropolitan King County Council member, said he's never owned a gun, never hunted or even fired a weapon. But he emphasized, "I strongly support the right to bear arms."
Both Inslee and McKenna said they support background checks for purchasing guns from private dealers at gun shows. Such checks are required when buying a gun from a federally licensed dealer.
"It's difficult for me to defend preventing a terrorist from getting on an airplane ... but then allowing him to go to a gun show and buy weapons and unlimited ammunition with no background check," Inslee said. "That just doesn't pass the common-sense test."
McKenna said there should be "some kind of background check" when buying firearms at a gun show. He noted the Washington Arms Collectors, which holds the largest gun show in the state, requires purchasers to be members of the group, and every member must have a background check.
"I think it's quite telling that the largest and most responsible gun-show operator in the state has already moved in that direction," he said.
Dunn does not support requiring background checks at gun shows.
"I'm just not there," he said. "I think you've got a situation where you've got private sales and transactions of guns, and if people want to get guns illegally they can get them illegally."
Ferguson would not directly address background checks.
"I'm running for attorney general," he said. "In that capacity, my job is to defend and enforce our existing laws. That's what I've been focused on."
Violence and mental illness
In talking about background checks, both Inslee and McKenna brought up the role mental illness can play in seemingly random violence.
Attorneys for the suspect in the Colorado shootings said he was being treated by a psychiatrist, and the family of the Cafe Racer shooter, who committed suicide, said he had suffered from mental illness.
Inslee said improving mental-health services is critical, but that issue can get lost in the gun-control debate.
"When you have something like this (the Colorado shooting), the question immediately is gun-show loopholes as opposed to how are we going to provide mental-health services to try to identify and keep these people from being violent," he said.
McKenna said the state needs more effective tools to deal with the mentally ill, noting his office helped push through legislation that makes it harder for someone who had been involuntarily committed to a mental institution to buy a firearm.
He said the state also should look at ways to ensure the mentally ill take their medications, "and recognize that failure to take needed medication is often an underlying factor in these incidents."
Seattle banned guns in parks in 2009, but that was overturned by the courts, which ruled state law pre-empts local authority to adopt firearms regulations.
Inslee said he's open to the idea of allowing communities to pass more restrictive laws.
"The question is, can we ... give local communities the ability to make their local decision in a way that does not intrude on people's ability to transport their guns to gun shows and hunting trips and respect our constitutional rights," he said. "There may be ways to do that."
McKenna, however, said gun laws should remain in the hands of the state Legislature. "It would be very difficult for a law-abiding citizen to know whether they are breaking the law or not, if the law changes from city to city," he said.
Dunn agrees with McKenna.
"Every county and every municipality is going to have a different rule, and if you are a law-abiding citizen and you have a handgun and you are going from one county to another, all of the sudden you could be in violation of an ordinance that's been passed," he said. "It just doesn't work."
Ferguson would not directly answer the question, saying only that he would defend existing laws.
The Colorado shootings have prompted some Democrats in Congress to bring up banning assault weapons.
As a congressman, Inslee voted for such a ban in 1994 and said "it's possible" he would have voted for it again.
McKenna does not support a ban, saying it would not solve the problem.
In the case of the Colorado shootings, "the gun didn't cause the crime. He did. He clearly was determined to arm himself," McKenna said.
Dunn also does not support an assault-weapons ban. "You're not going to solve the problem. You are not going to make America safer by all these further restrictions. It feels good, but it really won't make a difference," he said.
Ferguson would not answer the question.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or email@example.com