McGinn's office ignored leading gun control group in buyback effort
SEATTLE -- Gun buybacks like the one promoted and hosted by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn are little more than a distraction, often "backfire" and are red meat for anti-gun-control zealots.
That's the advice Washington CeaseFire would have given McGinn had anyone from the Mayor's Office bothered to contact the state's leading gun safety group before announcing the January buyback, according to email correspondence provided to seattlepi.com.
Speaking Wednesday, a mayor's office spokesman acknowledged CeaseFire was initially left out prior to announcing the event. Spokesman Robert Cruickshank defended the event, which was supported by the Seattle Police Foundation and several businesses, including Amazon and the Seattle Seahawks.
"It was a great way to get guns off the street," Cruickshank said.
Seattle's Jan. 26 buyback ultimately saw about 716 guns exchanged for $68,000 in gift cards bought with donated funds. The event cost the city $31,306, according to city figures. Most of that money - $23,223 - went to pay police officers working overtime to staff the event.
Gun control advocate: Buybacks 'a waste of resources'
City emails show the Mayor's Office failed to contact CeaseFire - a 30-year-old non-profit that is arguably the state's most active proponent of gun control - prior to announcing the buyback. McGinn was the keynote speaker at CeaseFire's annual luncheon the year before.
When Washington CeaseFire President Ralph Fascitelli learned of the buyback via a mass announcement, he was none too supportive. In an email titled "Buybacks often backfire," Fascitelli chastised the buyback backers for the piecemeal effort and dismissed buybacks broadly.
"I wish you guys would have talked to us/CeaseFire about this before moving forward," Fascitelli said in an email to King County Executive Dow Constantine and a Mayor's Office staffer. "The overwhelming research shows that buybacks generally don't work well and are a waste of resources and are mocked by the NRA.
"We will be lucky to get a few thousand or more guns back, many of which don't work too well in a country where there are almost 2 million guns," Fascitelli continued in an email provided to seattlepi.com following a public records request. He went on to wonder why the buyback supporters "do kneejerk standalone stuff" instead of a coordinated campaign.
Responding to Fascitelli's email - though not to the CeaseFire president directly - McGinn Chief of Staff Julie McCoy described Fascitelli's concerns as "ridiculous" in an email to other Mayor's Office staff.
Constantine, though, did not blow off Fascitelli's complaint. He said in an email to the Mayor's Office that CeaseFire should have been consulted prior to announcing the buyback plan.
"I have to reiterate my shock that the city hadn't contacted, let alone coordinated with, CeaseFire," Constantine said in an email on Jan. 8, the day after the buyback was announced.
In another email to members of the Mayor's Office leadership team, Ethan Raup, director of policy and operations of McGinn's office, acknowledged the mayor's team "probably should have thought of it earlier."
McGinn spoke at a CeaseFire-sponsored rally five days later. McGinn called for a state ban on assault weapons during the event, as well as restrictions meant to keep people with severe mental health issues from accessing weapons. The mayor's talking points from the Jan. 12 event didn't mention the buyback.
While he stands by his critique, CeaseFire President Ralph Fascitelli said he and his organization have taken several meetings with the Mayor's Office aimed at bringing a broader campaign to bear against gun violence.
"Buyback programs by themselves don't work, and we've found that out," Fascitelli said Wednesday.
McGinn, he continued, "recognizes the criticisms and is trying to be more comprehensive."
Speaking Wednesday, Cruickshank said CeaseFire was overlooked due to the speed at which the Mayor's Office was moving to pull together the buyback in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting that saw 27 people murdered on Dec. 14.
"It certainly wasn't any deliberate omission," Cruickshank said. "We were just moving quickly to get it done."
Asked about the substance of Fascitelli's criticism of buybacks, the mayor's spokesman said "the results speak for themselves."
"When we held the event, we collected more than 700 guns," Cruickshank said. "The response was very strong."
Fascitelli suggested gun buybacks may be an effective way to draw attention to a broader gun safety initiative. Alone, he said, they are "an absolute waste of time." Energy would be better spent asking businesses to bar armed patrons, Fascitelli said, and asking parents to ensure their children aren't playing at homes where guns are stored.
To the contention that a buyback doesn't cost anything, Fascitelli said momentum matters in the cyclical struggle around gun issues.
"The harm is lost opportunity," he said. "If we have an ineffective event, I think that takes the air out of the room."
Public Health -- Seattle-King County officials signed on with the buyback effort only after noting they could find no evidence that buybacks prevent gun violence.
Asked to endorse the effort by a Mayor's Office liaison, Public Health Director Dr. David Fleming said he and his staff were unaware of any studies showing buybacks succeed in reducing gun violence, accidental shootings or suicide rates. Still, Fleming agreed to endorse the buyback because "it's a good thing for people who don't want guns in their home to get rid of them."
Guns went to smelter months before McGinn's art project proposal
Emails from the Mayor's Office also show staff knew as early as Jan. 24 that the smelter would add the guns to a 120-ton batch of recycled steel, so no guns would be available for an art installation similar to the one forged following a mid-1990s gun buyback. Nonetheless, McGinn and others continued for months to claim the guns would be melted down and provided to artists.
On May 7, McGinn announced the smelted guns would be turned into bricks inscribed with quotes about gun violence from Seattle school children.
"These upcycled plaques, inscribed with the hopes and dreams of the next generation, will transform weapons of violence into something positive," McGinn said in announcing the effort. "It is my hope that this project will spur a conversation in our community about what kind of city we want to be, and how we can get there together."
The mayor had to backtrack days later when KIRO/7 reported the guns had in fact been destroyed. The Seattle Police Department ultimately took the blame, with a spokesman telling The Associated Press the department mistakenly failed to hold back guns for the art project.
The program, dubbed "Weapons to Words," is still ongoing, though it depends on a second gun buyback to provide the raw materials. The guns involved in the January buyback were melted down as part of a larger lot.
While the Mayor's Office initially hoped to place a brick in each Seattle school, it changed course after Seattle Public Schools opted not to participate in the effort. A location for the bricks has not been set, nor has McGinn announced a date for a second buyback.