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November 26, 2013 at 1:36 PM
Civil Disagreement is an occasional feature of the Seattle Times Editorial Page. Here editorial writers Lynne K. Varner and Bruce Ramsey come down on opposite sides of a recent Washington Supreme Court ruling supporting state law forbidding guns to persons arrested for, but not yet convicted of, a gun crime.
Lynne, take a look at the case of Roy Steven Jorgenson of Woodland, Cowlitz County, which came down Nov. 21 from the Washington Supreme Court. He was arrested of shooting someone and was about to be tried for first degree assault. Out on bail, he was arrested for having a 9-mm handgun and AR-15 rifle in his car. He wasn’t threatening anyone and wasn’t defending himself. He just had them. And under the state law forbidding possession of weapons by anyone charged with a serious crime, he was convicted of illegal possession.
At the Washington Supreme court he argued that the law violated his constitutional right to bear arms. Five justices—Steven González, Barbara Madsen, Debra Stephens, Susan Owens and Mary Fairhurst—disagreed, and the court ruled against him. They did not argue that the law was needed to defend the public, but that the Legislature thought it was, and that the court should defer to the Legislature under a rule of “intermediate scrutiny.”
Justice Charles Wiggins wrote the main dissent, signed by justices Charles Johnson, Jim Johnson and Tom Chambers. (Apart from González, Lynne, this is a case of the women versus the men.) The law was unconstitutional, Wiggins argued, because it applied to everyone charged for certain offenses, and that violated due process of law—the 14th Amendment. In Wiggins’ view, this was not about the right to own guns. “It is entirely appropriate to prohibit some individuals accused of a serious crime from possessing firearms,” Wiggins wrote (italics mine). But he argued that an accused person accused ought to have the chance to argue for himself and have a judge make a decision specific to him.
Jim Johnson, the court’s conservative, said he agreed with Wiggins on due process, but another thing bothered him. The majority had used “intermediate scrutiny.” When a fundamental right is at stake, he said, the court should use strict scrutiny, which means the law had to be “narrowly tailored” to achieve a “compelling governmental interest.” Washington’s law isn’t.
I agree with Wiggins and Jim Johnson. Firearm ownership is an individual right, whether we like it or not. (And the majority opinion by González admits this.) The judge should have been allowed to suspend that right for Jorgenson (and probably would have, too) by citing risks specific to him. A blanket prohibition pokes too large a hole in a constitutional right.
Bruce, I’ll take your argument apart in a second. But first, let me start with the question of why anyone would need to drive around with a 9-mm Tokarev and an Olympic Arms AR-15 rifle in their car? Is he on the lam from the mob? Does he have a Napoleon complex and need the extra metal, so to speak?
I know about our Second Amendment rights. But I am tired of gun owners ending up on the front page crying about how they did not know fill-in-the-blank-name-of-shooting-victim would get a hold of the weapons and shoot themselves or others. Then, once their lax gun ownership responsibilities have created a mess, they look to taxpayer-funded emergency and social services to clean it up. Want to know what I’ll be thankful for on Thursday? When I do not have to hear another gun owner tell me why they have the right to walk around armed like they’re headed to Afghanistan.
But I digress.
The case before the state Supreme Court was about intermediate versus strict scrutiny, the difference between narrow application of a goal needed to achieve a compelling public interest and something broader. State law prohibits people from having a firearm if they have been released on bond after a judge has found probable cause to believe the person committed a serious offense. The law is a preventative measure erring on the side of pubic safety.
“The State has an important interest in restricting potentially dangerous persons from using firearms,” Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote in the majority opinion.
You note that Roy Jorgenson was arrested under suspicion of shooting someone. It was more than that Bruce. He was released on bond after a trial court found probable cause that he had indeed shot someone. The justice system weighed the evidence against Jorgenson and found it credible enough to continue moving the case forward. As the majority opinion noted, when a trial judge finds probably cause, public safety justifies temporarily limiting a person’s right to possess firearms. Note the word “temporary.”
Firearm ownership is a right protected by the U.S. Constitution. But your right to bear arms should not extend to putting the public at greater risk. State law, reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, strikes the right balance.
August 27, 2013 at 12:17 PM
Capitol Hill is regularly mentioned as one of the trendiest neighborhoods to live and hang out in Seattle, but it also seems to have become a magnet for criminal behavior and hate incidents. What’s most alarming is that these incidents are happening in a community long-defined by its tolerance of cultural diversity and same-sex relationships.
In a Monday blog post by our community news partner Capitol Hill Seattle, writer Sam Heft-Luthy reported on a spike in crime and at least seven different hate incidents over the summer that included allegations of homophobia or racism.
Seattle police report an overall decrease in violent crime citywide, with the exception of robberies. Seattle police are not sure whether these recent incidents in Capitol Hill were perpetrated by repeat offenders, outsiders or drunk people frequenting the area’s many bars.
The perception of a crime spree has inflated my own fear of walking through Capitol Hill at night — something I used to do on a regular basis, whether it was to get to and from a friend’s house or a nearby eatery. Several weeks ago, I feared two men were following me home to my Capitol Hill building. It was the creepiest experience I’ve had in Seattle. Our front door auto-locked before they could enter the lobby.
The Seattle Times editorial board published this Aug. 22 editorial calling on the mayoral candidates to offer “longer term, broader strategies” to combat rampant crime in downtown Seattle. They should extend their attention to Capitol Hill — a destination for locals, students tourists and transients. No one should fear for his or her safety on a city street once the sun goes down. (more…)
July 24, 2013 at 6:15 AM
King County Sheriff John Urquhart really must see the movie “Fruitvale Station” which opens in Seattle on Friday.
Fruitvale is based on the real-life slaying of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by an Oakland transit officer in 2009. The cop, Johannes Mehserle, was captured on bystanders’ cellphones standing over Grant, who was pinned to the ground by other cops, and shooting him point-blank in the back. Mehserle said he mistook his gun for a Taser. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served less than a year. The movie moves backwards from that fateful night to show the life Oscar Grant lived.
Urquhart needs to see ‘Fruitvale.” It would help with the sheriff’s mission to restore public confidence, following a recent independent report to the King County Council critical of the Sheriff’s Office’s handling of an incident where deputy and a corrections officer shot a man 16 times last year while were searching for another man. Urquhart was on KUOW radio this week calling the 2012 shooting of Dustin Theoharis justified despite the high bullet count. His view is backed by two review panels. Urquhart must cross the blue line and see carnage left by cops and wanna-be cops with itchy trigger fingers.
He must understand what film critic Steven Boone, reviewing Fruitvale for RogerEbert.com, meant when, paraphrasing The Elephant Man, wrote about Oscar Grant: “(He) was not an animal. He was a human being. He had dreams and feelings. He cared for many people, and many people cared for him.”
Oscar and the lucky to be alive Dustin Theoharis are human beings who did not deserve what they got from the people paid to keep us safe.
June 3, 2013 at 12:58 PM
Is the public showing more concern about gun violence since the shooting death of Molly Conley? The Bishop Blanchet High School freshman’s death has garnered a lot of attention, although police officials appear to be taking pains to avoid seeming to care more about a young, white student’s death than the other victims who’ve died because of gun violence. How did Conley become the latest drive-by shooting victim when she was doing nothing more than celebrating her 15th birthday with a late-night walk with friends along a residential road in quiet Lake Stevens? The public wants to know. They want to know not just to have a face, or faces, to blame but to help explain what appears to many as an aberration in the normal ebb and flow of violent crime.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s office is searching for leads and witnesses. It is fine to question who would harm the Magnolia teen. By all means, demand a thorough investigation and her killer, or killers, brought to justice. But I caution against obsessing about one shooting without asking the bigger questions posed by a growing body count from gun violence in and around Seattle. Be horrified, angry and frightened by Conley’s seemingly senseless shooting. But add her name to the growing list of victims cut down by easy access to guns and a willingness by some to turn guns on each other. None of it makes sense to me.
Folding Conley’s tragic death into the bigger picture requires that we look at all the victims of gun violence as individual tragedies. Every one of them. Even the ones dismissed as cases of living and dying by the proverbial sword. (more…)
May 8, 2013 at 6:30 AM
America is captivated by Charles Ramsey’s colorful story about his rescue of Amanda Berry from a Cleveland house where she and two other women had been held prisoner for a decade. Overnight, Ramsey has become “one of those instantly compelling figures who, in the middle of an American tragedy, just start talking—and then we can’t stop listening,” as a writer wrote in The New Yorker.
Ramsey’s unwitting but spot-on commentary about race in America has been the most compelling part. Asked by a reporter how he knew Amanda Berry was in trouble, Ramsey replied:
I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway … Either she’s homeless or she’s got problems. That’s the only reason she run to a black man …
Ramsey’s explanation is rooted in Americans stereotypes of black men as lazy, criminal and someone to fear. Think of the taxi drivers who avoid picking up black men at night for fear they’ll be robbed, as noted in this ABC News story. Black men are too often “the wrong color and the right suspects,” as the New York Times put it in a review of a documentary about five black teenagers falsely accused and convicted of raping a Central Park jogger. The Washington Post has called for attention to the “vast, increasing segregation of young, African American men and boys from the promise of their country.”
With all of the pathologies heaped upon black men, it is no wonder Ramsey was shocked to find a white woman running toward him rather than away from him. Is Ramsey the one to make America realize how painful, and more importantly, inaccurate, its stereotypes of black men are? (more…)
May 7, 2013 at 6:15 AM
An interview last week on NPR’s Fresh Air with criminologist Adrian Raine raises a fascinating question: do bad brains cause bad behavior?
Raine thinks so, and has the brain imaging research to prove it. Brain scans of psychopaths show their brains are different from normal people, and their amygdala, the emotional governor of the brain, are remarkably smaller.
This research is putting a spotlight on the field of neurocriminology, which Raine writes about his new book, The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime. Sounds like a meaty, provocative read.
The interview reminded me of a New York Times story from 2002 tracing criminal behavior through a family tree, raising the old nature-versus-nurture debate. The story notes that half of the juveniles in custody have a father, mother or close relative who’s served time.
The concept is not new: any veteran police officer can tell you stories of generational crime. But brain imaging research raises interesting questions about how we should approach criminal sentencing. If we know someone has the biological markers of sociopathy, shouldn’t parole officers pay heightened attention?
More importantly, if sociopathy is closely linked to a medical condition – ie, a withered amygdala – is there an opportunity for a medical treatment? If we can treat ADHD, and schizophrenia, and epilepsy, how about a crime-prevention drug? Call it Thug-B-Gone (feel free to suggest a more clever name).
Raine in his interview tries to inoculate himself from the notion of criminal destiny: people make choices. But he also is applies the research to to the death penalty debate (and I’m inclined to agree).
“I’ve got to be careful here. There’s no destiny here. Biology is not destiny, and it’s more than biology, and there’s lots of factors that we’re talking about there, and one factor like prefrontal dysfunction or low heart rate doesn’t make you a criminal offender. But what if all the boxes were checked? What if you had birth complications and you were exposed to toxins and you had a low resting heart rate and you had the gene that raises the odds of violence, et cetera, et cetera, stuff happening early on in life. I mean, you’re not responsible for that. Then how in the name of justice can we really hold that individual as responsible as we do … and punish them as much as we do — including death?”
Here’s the Wall Street Journal video story on Raine.
March 25, 2013 at 6:15 AM
Researching crime bills for our “how not to build another prison” editorials which ran Sunday (here here here and here), I came across the interesting chart below. It tracks the projected impact of crime bills dating back to 1986 based on the fiscal notes and some nifty calculations by Gongwei Chen, the state’s senior forecaster with the Caseload Forecast Council.
It had too many caveats to reproduce for the newspaper, and some of the projections ended up being way off (the Three Strike law has locked up closer to 400 than 900 inmates, for example).
But it is is a great visual representation of the financial costs of the “get tough on crime” approach. Each person on this chart costs the state an average of $34,123.85 per year. They add up, in a hurry.
Just as interesting, the Legislature recently has whittled down the prison population (as the chart below shows), with no significant impact on crime rates.
Some of the prison-population reduction bills offered smart alternatives to incarceration, including expansion of the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative. We’ve also sped up deportation for convicted felons in the country illegally.
Some crime bills make sense. I’ve been to at least seven of our state prisons over the past 15 years, and talked to guys I never want meet again. But next time your lawmaker talks about getting tough on crime, think about this chart, and the bow-wave effect of each new or longer sentence.
If you’re interested in more info, email me at email@example.com for the raw data and Gongwei’s explanation.
March 7, 2013 at 6:00 AM
State Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, says the issue is unlikely to get anywhere this year, but he hopes a public discussion — and “the transformational impact of DNA testing” — will lead to passage in the future. His bill proposes replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole. Proponents say doing so would save taxpayers tens of millions in court fees. Washington currently has eight inmates on death row and dozens of other capital punishment cases moving through the system.
Watch the fascinating hearing below, which opens with testimony from staff and both Carlyle and Republican state Rep. Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla. Walsh read a statement from former GOP Gov. Dan Evans, who supports repeal because “the chance for error is too great; the cost too high.” (I’ve posted his full remarks after the jump in this post.) The panel also heard from the family members of two murder victims who oppose the death penalty.
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