We've had an unusual spike in gun fatalities here in Peacenik Seattle this spring -- nineteen since January, compared to only three such deaths at the same time a year ago. Everyone is trying to figure out why. And after yesterday, it's not just
May 31, 2012

We've had an unusual spike in gun fatalities here in Peacenik Seattle this spring -- twenty-one since January, compared to only three such deaths at the same time a year ago. Everyone is trying to figure out why. And after yesterday, it's not just a rhetorical question.

Because this one was a real wake-up call:

A man described by his family as "angry toward everything" went on a deadly shooting rampage in Seattle on Wednesday, killing five people and critically wounding another before turning a gun on himself hours later as police closed in.

Ian L. Stawicki, 40, was identified by family and law-enforcement officials as the man who shot five people just before 11 a.m. at Cafe Racer Espresso in the University District — a hangout for a tight community of artists and musicians.

Four of the cafe shooting victims died. A fifth victim was fatally shot near Town Hall in downtown Seattle.

This happened not very far from where I live. At the park where my daughter's classmates were playing at their recess, the police came and told everyone to go back to their school and stay inside. Schools closer to the crime scenes were locked down entirely.

Everyone wants to know why this is happening. It isn't hard to figure out a couple of things that were clearly at play here: We're now a society awash in guns at unprecedented levels. And we're also awash in an increasingly untreated population of mentally ill people.

Over at Slog, Jonathan Golob explains:

In Washington State, it is exceedingly difficult to involuntarily commit mentally ill individuals—particularly for extended periods of time—unless someone is an imminent threat to themselves or others. Individuals with illness severe enough to be committed to a mental health facility in other communities are—by plan—allowed to try to integrate into the community.

In place of (costly and arguably inhumane) warehousing of the mentally ill, the plan for decades in Washington state has been to provide aggressive outpatient case management. Psychosis, bipolar disease, depression, anxiety and others are all treatable diseases. The notion—and it's not a bad idea at its core—is to use an army of social workers (state employees) to keep mentally ill people in the community engaged with treatment and the community safe.

Over the same decades, our investment in social services has dwindled. Right-wing propagandists like the Seattle Time's editorial board, Tim Eyman, and everyone you know who has uttered the phrase 'a more efficient state government' are directly responsible for our social service network being gutted, the many safety nets being left tattered and unmanned.

The reign of radical right wing financial policy in Washington State has left (the richest of) us with some of the lowest tax burdens of any community in the United States. The cost is a day like today.

But we haven't only government-gutting conservatives to thank for this problem. Because we can also thank the far-right paranoid gun nuts who run large national "gun rights" organizations for having gutted any kind of reasonable restraints on the public's access to guns.

As Goldy says, nearly all of the shooting cases in Seattle this past year have been evidence of the pervasive presence of guns in our urban culture, and that's due in no small part to organizations like the NRA and their many wannabee cohorts:

So just once, instead of incredibly denying that guns have much of anything to do with gun violence, I would like to hear opponents of sensible gun control regulation (say, closing Washington's gun show loophole for starts) explain to the children, spouses, friends and other loved ones of the victims that our freedom comes at a cost.

Because honestly, deep down, you gun control opponents know that's what you believe—that tragedies like today are a small price to pay for the privilege of being an American. You just don't have the balls to admit it.

This is particularly worth noting in a year in which the NRA is making increasingly paranoid appeals, claiming an insidious Obama-led "conspiracy" to destroy America. That is, the NRA is openly feeding the irrationality of paranoid, gun-toting and often angry people.

Anthony Robinson at Crosscut observes:

Beneath all the numbers there has also been a deeper change in American culture. Where many Americans once owned guns as part of a rural or small town lifestyle that including hunting, a nationwide shift toward more urban and suburban lifestyles has changed that. Now gun ownership for other reasons — as an expression of a person’s political commitments and rights — has increased. It’s less about a way of life that includes duck hunting and more about a way of life in which, at least for many, being a citizen means being armed.

What has produced this change, as Robinson observes, is a well-financed (by arms manufacturers) right-wing lobbying organization that now wallows in disreputable conspiracy theories, as well as alternate theories about the meaning of the Second Amendment that in turn have fueled real social and cultural changes:

The result is the most heavily armed civilian population in the world. When guns are a part of the mix, what might, without them, have been a fist fight and a bloody nose becomes a shooting and a fatality.

Lepore sums up the implications of this politicized re-interpretation of the Second Amendment and the consequent erosion of most efforts to regulate either gun ownership or the carrying of concealed weapons.

“When carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense is understood not as a failure of civil society, to be mourned, but as an act of citizenship, to be vaunted, there is little civilian life left.”

Even in Seattle, where we pride ourselves on a civil society, its institutions and behaviors, this shift is now evident. Increasingly, it seems that citizenship is defined not by the community we are and which together we build, but by our right to own and carry a gun.

Here in my neighborhood -- a classic liberal Seattle area, full of young professionals and their young families -- people just have a sick feeling in their stomachs. We know something isn't right. And we have the values of right-wing nutcases who hate us anyway -- because we're, you know, librul scum who want gun control and enough social workers to manage the state's population of mentally ill people -- to thank for it. Strange how that works.

UPDATE: SPD Blotter has a dramatic account from a heroic survivor of the shootings:

Amidst a hail of gunfire, a longtime patron of Cafe Racer bravely fought to save his friends from a gunman, who went on a violent rampage Wednesday.

Today, that patron—who we’re identifying by his first name, Lawrence—offered up a chilling account of the violence he witnessed inside the cafe yesterday, and explained how another tragic loss in his life led him to fight the gunman.

Lawrence, who says he’s been getting his morning coffee at Café Racer for “the last few years,” was sitting in the cafe when Ian Stawicki walked through the door just before 11 am.
“Just before it happened, I was looking at [Stawicki] He’d just been told he was 86’d [from the café] in a very polite manner.”

Lawrence says he looked down at his phone for a moment, and then, he says, “I hear the pop, pop, and people scrambling. I couldn’t make sense of it. I didn’t expect the gun to be that quiet. I thought ‘this is really happening.’As Stawicki opened fire in the café, Lawrence, grabbed a bar stool and used it to try to fight off Stawicki and defend his friends.

“I just threw the frigging stool at him, legs first,” he says. “My brother died in the World Trade Center. I promised myself,” if something like this ever happened, “I would never hide under a table.”

Stawicki, Lawrence says, “looked at me like he didn’t [care] at all. He just moved towards the rear of the bar instead of dealing with me at all, and I just brushed past him. He was on a mission to kill my friends.”

“I wasn’t a hero,” Lawrence says, pointing out that a café employee, who was wounded in the shooting, was able to call 911 and “lucidly” give police information about the shooting. “He’s the hero,” Lawrence says.

Now, Lawrence is trying to recover from Wednesday’s tragic events. “Yesterday I was all adrenaline,” he says. “Today, My friends are dead. I’m just grieving right now.”

Lawrence agreed to release a statement through SPD, but says he’s not ready to do interviews with the press, and asks for privacy as he grieves for his friends.

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