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Body count 2013: Cracking the code on criminal violence

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The Seattle Times is reporting today that 2013 produced 29 homicides in the Jet City, six of which were officer-involved, and buried in the story are references to the same things gun rights advocates have been saying in the year since Sandy Hook while arguing against new feel-good, non-solution gun laws.

What the story, by veteran reporter Jennifer Sullivan, didn’t mention was that Seattle — in a state that has one of the highest per capita levels of licensed concealed carry and where open carry is legal — produced a fraction of the murders reported in comparably-sized cities: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Md., and Milwaukee, Wis.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported 102 murders so far this year. The Baltimore Sun reported Christmas Eve there had been 232 slayings. Homicide Watch revealed 105 murders in the nation’s capital, including the dozen victims of the Navy Yard shooting in September; the infamous crime committed by a one-time Seattle resident who was armed not with a so-called “assault rifle” but a 12-gauge pump shotgun. That’s the same kind of gun used in the Arapahoe High School attack earlier this month, a firearm commonly used by hunters across the country.

The past year has seen a spike in activity on the gun rights v. gun control battle front. From the outset following the December 2012 Sandy Hook attack, gun rights advocates pointed to two things gun prohibitionists evidently did not wish to hear, at least from the so-called “gun lobby.” The report on Sandy Hook contains interesting revelations.

Gun rights leaders including the Second Amendment Foundation’s Alan Gottlieb, National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre and Larry Pratt, head of the Gun Owners of America, all suggested that there should be more focus on mental health treatment rather than public disarmament. Anti-gunners dismissed these suggestions as attempts to divert attention away from firearms.

Now the Seattle Times story brings that into focus, quoting King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and interim Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel. The Times noted that, after one officer-involved shooting, Satterberg renewed his call “for reforming the state standard for involuntary committal, allowing lifetime supervision of mentally ill offenders who have already committed acts of violence and increasing capacity in the state’s psychiatric hospitals and local inpatient facilities.”

Pugel told the Times, “It’s somewhat reflective of other officer-involved shootings throughout the nation. Federal funding and state funding to assist families of the mentally ill and the mentally ill themselves is falling farther behind.”

Even a cursory glance at the backgrounds of recent mass shooters or suspects finds a common thread. They all had mental health issues that current law or conditions in the mental health system seemed unable to address. Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Aaron Alexis, Jared Loughner, Sueng-Hui Cho; all had sent strong signals of emotional and mental health problems.

There is something else in the Times story that caught the eye of at least one Times reader. John Bowman, a former policeman and retired professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Police Training Institute, noted “There seems to be a lot more people prone to violence now.”

This might partly explain why increasing numbers of law-abiding citizens — including some 449,000 Washingtonians — are getting concealed carry licenses and permits. As this column noted, budget woes are causing cutbacks in police services in some communities. In Oregon’s Josephine County, residents there are mounting their own patrols because of Sheriff’s Department cutbacks.

One other thing Bowman said should apply to the way self-defense shootings by armed citizens are treated by local prosecutors. Bowman reportedly told many officers during his career, “If someone points a gun at you, it’s time to shoot the guy.”




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