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BB guns and stolen guns = 0 background checks

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Yesterday’s press conference with Interim Seattle Police Chief Harry Bailey dealing with two police-involved shootings earlier this week revealed that one suspect was armed with a BB gun and the other with a stolen handgun out of Kent, but one interesting detail was missed by everybody but Examiner.

The stolen .40-caliber Springfield XDM semi-automatic pistol recovered by the police after a suspect identified as Mohamed Abdi Jarato was shot in the buttocks had the loaded magazine jammed in backwards. This is clearly seen in a photo held up by Bailey yesterday, and supplied to this column by Seattle police.

It isn’t clear whether the suspect screwed up while he was trying to reload the pistol, or whether the magazine was in backwards throughout the incident. It would have been impossible for pursuing officers to know the magazine was incorrectly jammed into the gun, essentially rendering the pistol useless.

Likewise, when 36-year-old Andrew Law was waving what appeared to be a handgun at people and responding officers near a bus stop in the Sodo area, they could not possibly tell that the pistol in his hands was a Crosman .177-caliber air pistol. This CO2 pistol is capable of launching a pellet at speeds up to 430 feet per second. It closely resembles a genuine semiautomatic pistol, and at even a nominal distance on a dark night with only street light illumination, even firearms experts would be unable to tell for sure, and faced with a possible lethal attack, who would take the risk of allowing a visibly armed person open fire?

Law was fatally shot by an officer identified as Jason Atofau, who used a .223-caliber semi-auto rifle – essentially the same kind of modern rifle owned by millions of law-abiding private citizens – from a distance of several yards. The 55-grain bullet hit Law in the chest, and he died subsequently at Harborview Medical Center.

Of critical importance in Jarato’s case, since the gun was stolen there was no background check. Criminals don’t bother with such checks, a fact not lost on opponents of Initiative 594, the 17- or 18-page (depending upon which copy one has) gun control measure scheduled for hearings next week in Olympia before House and Senate committees, as reported here.

Equally important in Law’s case is the fact that an air pistol is not a firearm. There are no background checks on air pistols and it would be ridiculous to even attempt to try that because one might wind up making criminals of millions of school-age kids who own them.

As for the use of force questions now rising from these shootings, the facts will be sorted out by the investigations.

Faced with the same set of circumstances, knowing what cops knew at the time, what would any reasonable person have done?

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