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Latest tragedy in Seattle a sad reminder: Guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people

Another late spring day has come and gone, and with it, the lives of more innocent Washingtonians have been blotted out, cruelly cut short by gunfire:

A man who killed four people in a bloody shooting spree at two Seattle locations ended an intense manhunt by turning the gun on himself as officers closed in on him Wednesday.

The Seattle Police Department identified the man as Ian Stawicki.

Harborview Medical Center said he died Wednesday night, as did another victim, bringing the total death toll to six. The lone surviving victim was listed in critical but stable condition.

The day’s first shooting occurred around 11 a.m. at Café Racer in North Seattle, where police arrived to find five people down inside the business.  Three died from their wounds.

Less than an hour later, a man pulled out a handgun and fatally shot a woman in the head during a carjacking at Eighth and Seneca.

Though Seattle police were initially not sure that the two acts of violence were connected, they were later able to determine that all of the shootings were perpetrated by the same individual, Ian Stawicki, who, as reported above, turned his own gun on himself after he was cornered by SPD in West Seattle.

The names of the other people Stawicki killed have not yet been released. They are sadly just the latest victims in a spate of gun violence that has shaken Seattle and caused concern in nearby communities. To recap:

  • In the early morning hours of May 27th, several homes were damaged in a series of drive by shootings. Four homes and vehicles parked in front were targeted by unknown assailants: one on South Frontenac Street, one on South Holden Street, one on Columbian Drive South, one on South Henderson Street . No one was injured, but there were some close calls, as the homes were occupied at the time of the drive-by attacks.
  • Meanwhile, the same night, another Seattle homeowner was shot after he confronted a suspect who had broken into his home. He was transported to a hospital with life threatening injuries.
  • On May 26th, as the Folklife festival was going on, Ryan Burr was shot in the leg while waiting to cross Broad Street near the Space Needle when a member of a street gang pulled a gun on another man who he thought had insulted him. Burr was taken to Harborview Medical Center and later released. The shooter was apprehended by Seattle police inside the Center House and booked into the King County Jail on investigation of assault.
  • On May 24th, forty-three year old father of two Justin Ferrari was killed by gunfire that tore through his vehicle as it was moving through the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and East Cherry Street in the Central District. He died at the scene in his father’s arms. Police are still looking for the killer; no arrests have been made yet.
  • On April 22nd, twenty-one year old culinary student Nicole Westbrook was shot and killed in Pioneer Square while walking home with her boyfriend. She had just moved to Seattle, according to news reports.

And then, of course, we have today’s deplorable shootings, all apparently perpetrated by Ian Stawicki, which resulted in the deaths of half a dozen people – inluding Stawicki. Stawicki’s brother Andrew (who shares the same last name), told The Seattle Times his brother was mentally ill and stubborn.

“It’s no surprise to me this happened,” he told the newspaper. “We could see this coming. Nothing good is going to come with that much anger inside of you.”

Sadly, it is all too easy for a person with a mental illness to get his or hands on a gun in the United States, due to loophole-filled laws and lax regulations which the National Rifle Association (NRA) is constantly working to weaken.

A coalition of several hundred mayors from around the country known as Mayors Against Illegal Guns (cofounded by Michael Bloomberg and Thomas Menino) has been working to close such loopholes but has had to contend with the opposition of the gun lobby at every turn. The coalition points out that since 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, more than four hundred thousand Americans have been killed with guns. More than four hundred thousand. To put that number in perspective, that’s equivalent to two-thirds of the current population of Seattle. And more people are killed with guns –  especially illegally obtained guns – every single day.

When is enough enough? When are we going to take action – as a region, as a country, as a society – to keep firearms out of the hands of people who cannot be trusted to store and use them safely and responsibly?

Diehard defenders of the Second Amendment would have us believe we’d all be safer if we were armed to the teeth, so we could better defend our homes and our property. They are utterly wrong. The more guns we collectively buy, the more guns we will collectively use. Data has borne this out.

The recent outbreak of gun violence will become even more tragic if it results in more gun sales. As Seattle Times editorial writer Lance Dickie says:

Seattle is suffering a frightening contagion of mindless armed violence. Idiots with guns claiming lives and wounding others with stray rounds. Violence amped up to a delusional defense of honor and pride with murderous consequences for innocent people.

This urban tragedy is all the more disturbing because of the potential for the demented response it will inspire. Other idiots with guns will feel empowered to arm themselves and argue their right to protect the public. Please spare us the cheesy excuse to carry a piece into a diner or grocery store. An anxious city is not comforted by the prospect of hero wannabes itching to shoot back at – whatever.

What can be done to prevent future tragedies like the one our region experienced today from happening again? That’s not a question that is easily answered. There is no panacea. As Danny Westneat laments:

We are a city on edge. A city now in full-fledged crisis.

The mayor, the police and the feds need to quit bickering, sit down like adults — now — and hash out what, if anything, they can do. Because the people, at this point, are literally being caught in the crossfire.

At the least there needs to be far more urgency and more police presence in the neighborhoods, until what the mayor called this “wave of gun violence” is brought under control. Or, more likely, ebbs on its own.

The Stranger’s Jonathan Golob, meanwhile, argues that days like today are the price we pay for gutting public services. A strong social safety net can deter crime, poverty, poor health, and many other problems.

But instead of strengthening our safety net, we’ve been ripping holes in it, year after year. We’ve simply got to stop doing that.

As the title of this post says, guns don’t kill people. People with guns – people with guns who shouldn’t have guns – kill people.

If Ian Stawicki had received treatment for his mental illness, if he’d had more people looking after him, if he hadn’t had access to a firearm… he and his victims would still be alive right now. Today’s tragedy would not have occurred.

Let’s take action to prevent the tragedies of tomorrow by working together to end senseless gun violence, especially at the state level.

6 Comments

  1. lori batiot
    Posted May 31st, 2012 at 1:08 AM | Permalink

    Very well said.

  2. booker bienstock
    Posted May 31st, 2012 at 7:53 AM | Permalink

    Andrew, interesting post. It presents a mixed bag of points with some shock-value that distracts from them.

    I’ve read a number of stories and none of them definitively say how Ian Stawicki obtained the handgun he used in the recent cafe/street shooting. Clearly he was mentally ill, and his brother (and others) knew about it. You follow that up with a statement about NRA-supported loopholes and how easy it is to purchase guns in America. Do you know definitively that Stawicki bought his gun through one of those loopholes? Your generalizations detract from your point, that mentally ill and those who should not own guns must be filtered out, while law abiding citizens should not be infringed upon. Come to Maryland, and you’ll see that purchasing a gun is a lot harder, yet there is still hundreds of gang-related gun homicides in Baltimore and surrounding areas. Why??

    Which brings me to the next point; the other shootings you use as examples are all shootings by criminals; gangs, robbers, burglars, muggers, and others who have already broken significant laws (robbery, assault, theft, possibly rape) and likewise have no regard for gun laws on the books. This is why the current gun control perspective is flawed from the beginning. Criminals have already made the decision to break the law. Additional laws about guns being illegal isn’t going to stop them from obtaining and using guns as they commit other crimes.

    I completely agree, people who shouldn’t have guns that do, often kill people. I have many guns, and they’ve never hurt anyone, and never will, but that’s because I am a law-abiding, mentally healthy, non-aggressive, responsible, adamantly safe firearms owner and citizen. Gun violence disturbs me as much if not more so than those who do not own firearms, because it makes me feel as though I need to defend my firearms ownership, when I have done nothing wrong.

    While I am a vehement defender of 2A, I do not believe we should all be armed to the teeth, all the time. I do believe we need to address the root causes of the violence, regardless of the tool (gun, knife, brick, car, gasoline, fists, you name it). Mentally ill need to be recognized and given the help they need. Those in pain or suffering need the support required to keep them from doing rash acts of violence. Kids must be given the proper mix of education, love, and reality that makes them compassionate but resilient to the inconsiderate harshness of others.

    So I think we both agree, it is a people problem. How do we make better people?

  3. Gretchen Anna Sand
    Posted May 31st, 2012 at 2:09 PM | Permalink

    Those who, in any way, shape, or form, promote violence need to shut up. The authorities listed above MUST stop their childish bickering and put an end to this.

  4. Ken P
    Posted June 1st, 2012 at 12:04 AM | Permalink

    I agree with statements like “people who shouldn’t have guns kill people”, and I also agree that something needs to be done, but as a legally licensed concealed carrier, who very strongly believes in the right and need to be prepared to defend myself and my family, I take offence at the statements like “some other idiots with guns will try to be heroes”…being a vigilante is idiotic yes, but being an armed and prepared member of society is a responsibility! I practice regularly with my firearms, and I also train my children to use them as well. Those of you who think you will confront someone wanting to hurt you or your family, with words are sadly mistaken, and you will simply become a statistic in the end!

  5. Featherback
    Posted June 1st, 2012 at 3:35 PM | Permalink

    Latest tragedy in Seattle a sad reminder: Guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people

    That is interesting because 1) I have a gun, and 2) I’ve never killed anyone.

    Guns or not, those people with violent tendencies are going to end up killing other people. They may use knives, bats or even their bare hands. But to blame the violence strictly on guns is intellectually dishonest.

    The problems do NOT stem from gun ownership. The issues stem from the violent tendencies of the individuals.

    Editor’s Note: This commenter’s screen name was chosen by NPI, and the comment was edited to comply with NPI’s Commenting Guidelines.

  6. RickF
    Posted June 2nd, 2012 at 11:55 AM | Permalink

    In the 1990’s Boston decided to crack down on gun related crimes. Instead of passing more gun control laws Boston decided to use their existing laws and impose the maximum sentence on anyone found gulity of breaking those laws. Two years after implementing this program Boston experianced a 71-percent decrease in homicides by persons ages 24 and under and a 70-percent reduction in gun assaults (for all ages).