This afternoon, Mayor Durkan and Council member Gonzalez announced a new piece of legislation: an ordinance requiring gun owners in Seattle to keep their firearms in locked containers.
In their joint press release, Durkan said, “The roots of gun violence are complex, but we know that unsecured, unsafely stored guns help fuel this crisis of violence because they are more likely to cause tragic accidents, fall into the wrong hands, or be used in suicides. Requiring that gun owners safely store their guns can help make our communities safer places to live.”
The press release notes that according to the American Journal of Public Health, 63% of households in Washington State with a firearm in the home do not store it locked and unloaded. It also claims that 150,000 adults in King County reported storing a firearm unlocked in 2015. The preamble to the legislation lists several other sobering statistics about gun violence in Seattle and Washington:
WHEREAS, in 2015, 714 Washington State residents died from a firearm injury, including 39 children under the age of 18; and
WHEREAS, 78 percent of firearm deaths in Washington State between 2010 and 2017 were due to suicide; and
WHEREAS, in 2015, a child or teen under the age of 17 was killed by gunfire in Washington State every nine days, on average; and
WHEREAS, crime statistics show guns play a significant role in many crimes against persons in Seattle, with crime reports indicating the involvement of a firearm in 66 percent of homicides, 17 percent of robbery incidents, and nine percent of aggravated assaults from 2015 through 2017; and
WHEREAS, the Seattle Police Department has taken 3,153 firearms into custody between 2015 and 2017 through the course of its regular duties; and
WHEREAS, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, an average of at least 232,000 guns were stolen per year from 2005 to 2010;5 and
WHEREAS, in the City of Seattle, guns are stolen from homes and cars, including at least 250 guns that were reported stolen in the City of Seattle in 2017;
The proposed legislation establishes the following:
- It is a civil infraction to store or keep a firearm on any premises unless it is in a locked container so as to render it inaccessible or unusable to any person other than the owner or an lawfully authorized user. However, the firearm is considered “lawfully stored or kept” while it is being carried or under control of the owner or a lawfully authorized user.
- It is a civil for someone to know (or reasonably should know) that a minor (limited by the exceptions in RCW 9.41.042), an at-risk person, or a prohibited person is likely to gain access to that person’s firearm, and then the minor, at-risk person, or prohibited person does obtain it.
- Either of these infractions is evidence of negligence in any civil proceeding if a minor, at-risk person, or prohibited person obtains the firearm and causes injury or death to him/herself or another or uses it in connection with a crime. Conversely, properly storing a firearm in a locked container and reporting it stolen within 24 hours of discovering the theft is an affirmative defense to an accusation of negligence.
- Not properly locking up a firearm is subject to a fine of $500. That increases to $1000 if a minor, at-risk person, or prohibited person actually obtains the firearm. And it increases to $10,000 if a minor, at-risk-person, or prohibited person uses the firearm to cause injury or death to him/herself or another or in connection with a crime.
- In a nod to restorative justice and the economic inequities of the law enforcement system, there are provisions in the ordinance that provide alternative means of handling the charge. A defendant may request a hearing to explain mitigating circumstances, and after doing so the Municipal Court may defer entry of an order in the case for up to a year while imposing conditions on the defendant. If at the end of the deferral the defendant has met all the conditions and has not repeated the infraction, the judge can dismiss the case. A person may only receive one deferral within a seven-year period.
- The Chief of Police must publish a rule determining what are acceptable forms of locking a firearm so as to make it inaccessible or unusable for anyone other than the owner or legally authorized users.
- For the first six years after the ordinance passes, the City Auditor must assess the impacts of the ordinance on gun injuries and deaths in Seattle and publish an annual report on the findings.
The legislation will be heard in Gonzalez’s committee before proceeding to the full Council for final approval (and back to the Mayor for her signature).