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Originally published Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 9:00 PM

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Guns, books and Eyman don’t mix at the library

First the libraries had to allow guns. They may have to allow Tim Eyman’s signature gatherers. What’s next?

Seattle Times staff columnist


Next week, a new rule takes effect in Seattle’s public libraries: You’re free to bring your gun into the stacks with you.

The board of the library system voted last week to get rid of its long-standing ban on guns.

The new rule says you can carry a gun, concealed or otherwise, into any Seattle library, as long as you don’t do it in a way that “demonstrates intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons.”

Why would a city as anti-gun as Seattle allow them at libraries, of all places?

The library system says it had no choice. Courts last year ruled local cities had no authority to ban guns from specific places (Seattle had tried to bar them from parks and community centers). So it followed that even a decades-old ban at the libraries had to go.

“We’re going to comply with the right to carry,” said Marilynne Gardner, the Seattle Public Library’s chief financial officer. “People will not be able to brandish a gun in the library. But they will be able to bring them in.”

The folks at the library said they don’t expect the new rule, effective Monday, to change much. There’s unlikely to be a sudden arming-up of Seattle’s bookworms.

Symbolically, though, it does show how unsettled — confused? — we are as a society about guns. Because the day after the library voted to let guns in, a hundred private Seattle businesses held a news conference to announce they are keeping guns out.

“We recognize that gun violence is a significant public health issue and the presence of a gun can quickly escalate an altercation into a lethal event,” says the pledge of “Gun-Free Seattle.”

One of these gun-free zones is the Elliott Bay Book Co. So to clarify, for Seattle book lovers: You can now pack heat when you go to borrow a book; not so much when you go to buy one.

(In between the two is Starbucks, which last month announced guns wouldn’t be banned at its coffeehouses, but were also “not welcome.” In other words: Please for the love of profit leave us out of this infernal gun debate!)

Back to the libraries: As the son of a librarian, I have long been fascinated with how these seemingly benign information centers — “sanctuaries,” they are often called — instead end up as ground zero for the raging public conflicts of the day.

There’s guns, which have no place in libraries. There’s the ongoing conflict about porn viewing (in which the freedom of information collides with way too much information.)

And there’s another brewing battle: Next Tuesday, if voters approve Initiative 517, then one more of the Seattle Public Library’s long-standing rules will go by the wayside.

That’s the one that bans those annoying signature gatherers from coming inside. (They currently can operate only on the sidewalks outside.)

The measure, from Tim Eyman, would allow signature gathering inside all “public buildings” — which would likely mean petitioners with clipboards roaming the stacks and reading rooms.

“Can you imagine watching your child’s sports game and having a paid signature gatherer come up and ask for your signature? Or reading a book to your young one in the library and being solicited?” wrote Sam Reed and Brian Sonntag, former statewide public officials, in condemning Initiative 517.

They make it sound so dirty.

I don’t know. If I was at the library and had to choose between a) running into a man with a gun, b) running into a man watching porn, or c) running into Tim Eyman, I’d definitely choose ...

On second thought, maybe I’ll stay home and get e-books on my Kindle.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or


About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to His column runs Wednesday and Sunday. | 206-464-2086

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