UPDATE | Bainbridge council passes resolution on assault weapons

The Bainbridge Island City Council voiced its support for a reinstatement of the national assault weapons ban at its meeting Wednesday.

The council passed a resolution that authorized the council mayor to sign a letter to officials in Olympia and Washington, D.C. promoting the reinstatement of the ban, which went into effect in 1994 but expired in 2004.

The resolution, which follows ones in other states also prompted by the shooting massacre of children and teachers at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., also supports more extensive background checks for those seeking to purchase firearms.

“For someone like me who believes this should happen, and that a strong majority of my community wants it to happen, this is an appropriate action to bring forward,” said Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos, who originally drafted the resolution.

The resolution passed by a 5-1 vote.

Councilman David Ward was the one vote of opposition to the resolution. He said assault weapon bans do not work and won’t help curb gun violence.

“I was appalled by the shooting in Sandy Hook,” Ward said. “I want to take steps but I want them to be meaningful.”

“This is doing something, but it’s not doing the right thing,” Ward said.

Others also opposed the resolution.

Alan Kasper, the president of the Bainbridge Island Sportsmen’s Club, asked the council to reject the resolution.

Though Kaspar agreed with portions of the resolution — such as the call for stricter background checks, especially at gun shows — he said that the language that supported an assault weapons ban was off the mark.

“If we as a community want to make a statement, then let’s have it reflect the whole community, not just a portion of it and let’s recommend policies that have a chance of making a difference rather than same-o, same-o, tried and failed policies of the past,” he said.

Kaspar said the assault weapons ban enacted in 1994 did nothing to make anyone safer.

He also said the shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. “broke my heart.” He said a national database should be developed to help keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, and also called for Hollywood and game manufacturers to “tone down” the violence in their products and that educational efforts be increased.

Kasper also promoted armed guards at schools.

“Instead of signs that say ‘Gun Free Zone,’ replace them with signs that read ‘Armed Guards Present,’” he said.

Others also voiced their opposition.

“If this is approved, I will be embarrassed to be associated with Bainbridge Island,” said Daniel Stratton. “It misuses key words in a way that a child tries to use grown-up words.”

“The second you point a gun at a person and pull the trigger, you don’t care about the laws,” said Russ Berg, a firearms dealer on the island. “Writing some law is not going to stop it, it’s not going to save a life. It’s just going to make someone feel good.”

“I’ve lived here for 35 years. I’ve been on the school board. I was a Boy Scout leader. I worked on the island for the last 12 years of my career. And I’ve never hurt anybody,” said Doug O’Connor.

“But now you are saying because I have this firearm I cannot be trusted, that I can’t have it,” he said.

Islanders also came out in support of the resolution.

“The Sandy Hook shooting shook me to my core,” said Alorie Gilbert. “I am not alone in this on Bainbridge Island.”

“Please pass this resolution and send a message to Olympia that we will not tolerate this in our community,” Gilbert added.

The council has received approximately 30 emails in support of the resolution from islanders, according to Hytopoulos.

“This is a local issue, it’s a very local issue,” Hytopoulos said. “Because when these tragedies happen, that’s where it hurts. It hurts parents, it hurts teachers and police officers.”

“There is a big difference than walking into a school with a couple of shotguns than walking into a school with a semiautomatic weapon,” she added. “The difference between killing five children and 30 children really matters.”

Hytopoulos said that resolutions like the one she drafted are important because grassroots efforts are a powerful tool to influence lawmakers.

“The NRA is a very powerful lobby. It raises $200 million a year. And they have lawmakers at all levels running scared at all times,” she said.

“If people in this country don’t, at the grassroots level, provide the courage for lawmakers to act, then they aren’t going to act,” Hytopoulos said.

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