Was it only four years ago that 14 students and three staff members were gunned down at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida? Everytime there is a shooting at a school, we say “never again.” But it happens again.
Every Valentine’s Day, we are reminded that a former student killed those people, and we need to get serious about gun control. Recently, the families of nine victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings settled with Remington for $73 million. But you can’t bring those children back. That is why a program started by current King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg is so important because it forces jurisdictions to keep and report “all shots fired.”
Eighty-eight people were killed and 372 were wounded in 2021 — surpassing totals for 2020, in which 69 were killed and 268 were wounded — for a total of 460 people who were victims of shootings in King County.
There were 1,405 “shots fired” incidents in 2021, which is a 26% increase from the previous four year average. The “shots fired project” tracks data from 20 police agencies throughout King County, but the majority of shootings come from eight police departments that comprise approximately 79% of the county’s population. They are Seattle, Tukwila, Renton, Kent, Auburn, Federal Way and Des Moines police departments, along with the King County Sheriff’s Office, which provides police services to unincorporated King County and 16 small contract cities.
But before the suburbs start blaming everything on our central city of Seattle, 62% of the shootings in 2021 happened outside the Seattle city limits, up slightly from the four-year average of 60%. Of the 460 shooting victims, 85% were male and 28% were between ages 18-24 — and 81% were people of color. The report also says that for both fatal and non-fatal shootings, 48% of the victims were Black and 27% of them were males between ages 18-24. Note that Black people make up only about 7% of the population. Guns are a problem that needs attention.
In what is likely to be a much-researched topic by social service agencies, the number of juvenile victims and shooters has fallen slightly. Agencies will want to get a better understanding of why that happened because those groups have violence prevention programs and are the leaders of the future. The overall message is that with the turbulent times, social agencies are left to solve problems of homelessness and affordable housing without enough money or staff, and some additional support for these young people needs to be a high priority of government.
The biggest increase was in ages 30-39, as well as in the number of females as victims and perpetrators of gun violence. It would also be easy to write off the numbers as more street level drug trade, which is how some elected officials try to escape responsibility — by blaming drugs. However, the report says that road rage and reckless discharge are frequently the culprits, which is a temperament issue that is controllable.
Fortunately, the Legislature is in session and they are working to ensure election workers are safe by passing legislation to make it illegal to carry a weapon at an election site. And with some of the local government behavior we have read about, there is some support to ban guns from school board and city council meetings, both of which are good ideas. Another good idea is a bill banning the manufacture, distribution and sale of large capacity ammunition magazines. The governor has said the rules will change on masks on March 12, two days after the session is supposed to end. Now is the time to contact your legislators and encourage them to make gun control a high priority for the next legislative session because it may take two or three attempts to build support. Last year, the Legislature banned guns from the State Capitol campus. Another county program may be helpful as it provides budget support by seeking to establish partnerships with local community groups through the Regional Peacekeeper Collective. In the long run, we simply can’t take a casual approach to guns any longer. It’s time to get serious about gun control.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.