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Seattle mass shooter benefited from lax gun law

June 01, 2012|By Dan Turner
  • Ian Stawicki is captured by a security camera after his shooting spree at Cafe Racer in Seattle on Wednesday.
Ian Stawicki is captured by a security camera after his shooting spree at… (AFP / Getty Images )

Ian L. Stawicki, who shot five people to death Wednesday in Seattle before putting a bullet in his own head, had a long history of violence and mental problems, though not the kind that show up on official records. He was charged with misdemeanor assault in 2008 and 2010, but charges in both cases were dismissed after first his girlfriend, whose nose he allegedly bloodied, and then his brother declined to testify against him. Other charges reported by Seattle police, such as malicious mischief, were also apparently dropped before getting to court. His family says he was mentally ill. Is this the kind of guy who'd make a good candidate for a concealed weapons permit?

Police in Washington gave him one, based on that state's "shall issue" law, which says that officials must award concealed weapons permits to anyone who meets the standards, even if police think the applicant is dangerous. The state's bar is so low that even a character like Stawicki could slither under it. He had never been involuntarily committed to a mental institution, was over 21, a U.S. citizen, had no felony convictions and met the handful of other qualifications needed for a permit. So it was perfectly legal for him to walk into Cafe Racer on Wednesday morning with two pistols hidden under his clothing, sit down and wait for the cafe staff, who had thrown him out previously for disruptive behavior, to confront him. He didn't break the law until he pulled out a pistol and started shooting.

This might have happened anywhere, even in California. But it's notable that in California, he probably wouldn't have been legally allowed to walk around armed in public. Unlike Washington, this state has a more restrictive "may issue" standard when it comes to concealed weapons permits. Background checks are more extensive and might involve interviewing an applicant's family, which would have turned up the information that they thought Stawicki was missing several marbles. Some California jurisdictions even require psychological testing for permit applicants. Moreover, Stawicki would have had to demonstrate good cause to carry a concealed weapon -- typically, applicants in California have to show they're under some kind of physical threat, perhaps by someone they've taken out a restraining order against. Being a security guard is also typically considered good cause. Stawicki didn't meet those standards.

Washington's permissive gun laws are its own business. But there's a chance they might become ours too because of a push by the National Rifle Assn. to demolish states' rights to set their own gun standards. Last November, the House of Representatives approved a bill that would force California to honor concealed weapons permits issued in more permissive states such as Washington. Two related bills are awaiting a vote in the Senate, where a similar measure failed by just two votes in 2009.

Gun enthusiasts will point out, rightly, that somebody like Stawicki, who set out to commit mass murder, probably wouldn't worry much about breaking a concealed weapons law. Even without his permit, he still would have walked into that cafe packing heat. Others will argue, wrongly, that if somebody in the cafe had been armed, he or she could have shot Stawicki (adding to the lead content flying through a cafe isn't a good way to reduce the casualty count). In the end, "shall issue" laws simply make things easier for killers by putting deadly force at their fingertips, and they encourage gun violence by allowing unstable people to respond to emotional crises by opening fire. People who need concealed weapons permits should still be able to get them, but Stawicki didn't need one -- and California doesn't need to be saddled with the irresponsible permitting practices of nearby states such as Washington and Arizona.

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