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Updated Monday, January 14, 2013 at 07:37 PM

Hundreds rally in support of assault-weapons ban

By Christine Willmsen
Seattle Times staff reporter

Hundreds of people attended a gun-control rally Sunday at Seattle Center, hoping to counter the strength of gun lobbyists and embolden elected officials to ban assault weapons in the state.

About a month after the shootings in Newtown, Conn., that left 28 children and adults dead, some state officials believe now is the time to enact tighter controls on gun possession. Twenty of those who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School were first-grade students.

State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, plans to introduce legislation this week to ban assault weapons. He and others are drafting the bill.

"We will only win if we reach out and continue to change the hearts and minds of Washingtonians," he told the crowd. "We can attack them or start a dialogue."

But many, including Murray, said they have a wealthy and powerful opponent — the National Rifle Association (NRA).

"We could find ourselves in their financial cross hairs, so we have to make sure we win in Olympia and at the ballot," he said. "We have to be organized and ready to put money on the ground."

Volunteers with Washington CeaseFire and advocates for new gun laws marched for about a mile from Westlake Park to Seattle Center with signs such as "NRA Money: soaked in blood" and "Keep Guns for Hunting. Ban the Rest."

"For too many years we've endured too many gun accidents and tragedies because we haven't stood up," said Les Berenson, a Seattle physician who marched.

The local rally, attended by Seattle City Council members, School Board members, legislators and religious leaders, comes at a time when federal officials also are contemplating legislation.

Vice President Joe Biden will send a package of recommendations for curbing gun violence to President Obama on Tuesday, including universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

But the administration also will have to battle the NRA, whose president told CNN Sunday that there aren't the votes in Congress to re-enact a federal ban on assault weapons.

It may be just as hard to pass related legislation in Washington state.

Murray, who is expected to be the state Senate's minority leader, acknowledges his bill may not grab any traction. Indeed, he said he was concerned Republican leaders won't schedule a hearing on it.

"I'm used to hearing 'No' and winning later," said Murray, who said it could take years to get a ban on assault weapons. "It's going to take time to change votes."

At the rally, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn rang a bell 28 times in memory of the dead in Newtown. He challenged the crowd to be courageous and reminded them of the May shooting at Café Racer in Seattle, which left four dead there and another woman shot dead downtown.

"Look in your heart to see what you can do," he said.

Christine Willmsen: 206-464-3261


BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Walter Stawicki, center, with sign, talks with, from left, gun owners Brian Barnes, Rob Stratton and Eric Diesch before the gun-control rally Sunday. Stawicki's son, Ian, shot and killed six people last May. Those killed included four at Café Racer, a woman downtown and himself.




BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Ralph Fascitelli, president of Washington CeaseFire, a local advocacy group trying to reduce gun violence, takes the stage at Westlake Park for the rally and march Sunday. Advocates for new laws to ban assault weapons in the state marched from Westlake Park to Seattle Center.




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