To take a stand or not to take a stand.
That was the question hotly debated by the Spokane City Council Monday night on two nonbinding resolutions related to gun laws and gun rights.
The results were a curious lesson in the unpredictability of a sharply divided council.
In a 4-3 vote the council decided that it is inappropriate to take a stance on specific gun legislation under consideration with bipartisan support in Olympia. City rules ban council votes on resolutions “not directly related to local affairs or municipal business.”
But council members then determined - in another 4-3 vote - that it is acceptable for the council to consider a resolution opposing any legislation that would violate the Second Amendment.
Six council members were consistent in their positions.
Council members Mike Allen, Nancy McLaughlin and Steve Salvatori said both nonbinding resolutions violated council rules and that debating them is a waste of time since it’s the Legislature or Congress, not the council, that has the real say.
Jon Snyder, Ben Stuckart and Amber Waldref argued that gun violence and gun rights are a matter of local affairs and that the council should be able to take official positions to urge the Legislature or national leaders to take action.
Councilman Mike Fagan voted to table Snyder’s resolution but to consider his own in support of the Second Amendment.
“How is this a local issue? Well, I’ll tell you,” Fagan said, addressing public testimony suggesting his stance on debating the issues was hypocritical. “It’s a local issue because it affects each and every one of us who are Americans sitting in this room and watching on TV. I cherish and respect the Second Amendment and I do not want to see the Second Amendment go down in flames because people are of the opinion that guns kill people. People kill people, ladies and gentlemen.”
Whether the council should take positions on prominent topics arguably not related to city business has loomed large over the council since last year when four council members, including Fagan, “tabled indefinitely” a nonbinding resolution in support of gay marriage on the basis that it was unrelated to local affairs.
Snyder’s resolution that was tabled asked the council to back a bill in the state House that would ensure that juveniles convicted of unlawfully possessing firearms receive time in juvenile detention and a bill to make it easier to civilly commit potentially dangerous offenders.
Once the council agreed to consider Fagan’s resolution urging rejection of “any legislation that would infringe upon the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” the proposal was opened to public testimony.
“The Second Amendment is really about protecting us against the government, more than it is protecting us against a home intruder or going hunting,” said Spokane resident James Halstead.
Suzy Halberstadt questioned why the council was willing to take a stand on the Second Amendment but not specific state legislation.
“It just amazes me that we have widespread gun violence and think that more guns are the answer to controlling guns,” she said.
McLaughlin said that having lost the vote to table Fagan’s resolution, she felt free to vote her conscience. She joined Fagan in support.
Snyder, Stuckart and Waldref opposed the resolution, arguing that it was overly broad and could rule out commonsense regulations.
Against the advice of the Assistant City Attorney Mike Piccolo, Salvatori and Allen voted to abstain, a likely violation of the same council rules that they said they didn’t want to violate by considering the nonbinding resolutions.
According to the rules: “A councilmember may only abstain from voting when he or she has a direct personal or pecuniary interest not common to other members of the Council….”
But Allen and Salvatori said they, too, were voting their conscience.
“It’s clear we shouldn’t be voting on this,” Salvatori said.
Stuckart and Snyder urged them to take a stand.
Said Snyder: “Man up and vote!”