Mayor Ed Murray held a press conference this afternoon surrounded by a wall of community members from African-American church groups, immigrant community groups, business leaders, and gay rights leaders, along with the SPD and City Council president Tim Burgess, to address the burst of gun violence and murders that took place this week—Sunday night's double homicide at 29th and King, where the fact that one of the victims was gay raises alarms that the shooting could have been a hate crime, and yesterday's campus shooting at Seattle Pacific University.
A somber and philosophical Murray, who said he'd met with the mothers of both victims from Sunday night's shooting as well as with students at SPU yesterday, announced that he planned to call a special meeting of the city council in a few weeks to tackle the problem of gun violence which he called a "perverse" national "epidemic" that neither he—nor "my predecessors, mayors around the country, governors and presidents"—have been able to solve "for decades."
"We're reaching a point in this nation where must find a solution, we have no choice," he said.
Murray labeled I-594, the gun-show background check measure, which he supports, "a small step towards a more rational conversation...a first step" in a state he said that has "made practically no steps" to solve gun violence. (Despite post-Sandy Hook momentum in 2013 and a lobbying visit from former US Rep. Gabby Giffords this year, the state legislature, where Murray was a state senator, failed to even bring the background check legislation to the floor.)
"We need to engage in a rational conversation," Murray said, adding that the debate had devolved into a "cultural war" around gun ownership rather than "gun responsibility." He said: "We don’t want to take guns away from people who are obtaining and using guns legally, but we need to have a conversation about how many guns are out there illegally." Murray used the languge "gun responsibility," as opposed to "gun control."
Tying gun violence to mental health issues, underfunded social services, police reform ("a key part, but not the answer in itself"), and even parks and the built environment (for example, neighborhoods that lack street lights), Murray made it clear that he was seeking a broader solution. "I want to find a very concrete approach to this. I want to have more than a conversation. As you can tell in my short time here, Seattle process doesn't really excite me."
SPD captain Chris Fowler and assistant chief Carmen Best briefed the press on both cases, saying that a second suspect in Leschi shootings, Ali Muhammed Brown, is still at large and the suspect in the SPU shooting, Aaron Ybarra, is in custody and they are still trying to determine his motive and why—with a reported history of mental health issues—he was able to obtain a gun.
The victims in the first shootings are recent UW graduate 23-year-old Dwone Anderson-Young, who was about to start an IT job in Bellevue, and 27-year-old Ahmed Said, both shot and killed on their way home from Capitol Hill's R Place late Saturday night. The victim in the SPU shooting was 19-year-old freshman Paul Lee, from Oregon.
Burgess reflected on the crisis finding symbolism in the fact that there were two vigils last night—one for Sunday night's victims and an impromptu vigil for the victims at SPU. "I've never had to choose between two vigils before," he said. "Two vigils is two vigils too many."
Murray concluded his opening remarks by quoting RFK's famous anti-gun violence speech from Indianapolis the night MLK was assassinated and said that ultimately the solution would be "defined in the end" not by politicians but "from those in the community working with their elected leaders."
Nodding to Austin Anderson with the Center for Multicultural Health (a young African American leader among those at the podium with the mayor, Murray said: "African American young men and women and ... East African young people as well were just begging to be involved in the conversation they believe they have been left out of. We want to involve them."