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Hefty fines to take effect in January for unlocked guns in Seattle

KOMO News file photo

SEATTLE - A new city ordinance that would assess hefty fines of up to $10,000 against Seattle gun owners who do not safely store their firearms or report their misuse was signed Wednesday by Mayor Jenny Durkan and take effect in January.

“This is the kind of action we need to save lives. While we can’t prevent every gun death or injury, we can take steps to help prevent future tragedies,” Durkan said in a prepared statement.

The ordinance was drafted following the release of a new University of Washington study showing that nearly two in three gun-owning households in Washington state do not safely store their firearms.

Other studies show that nearly 1,300 children die from gunshot wounds each year. In 2015, an estimated 150,000 adults in King County reported storing a firearm unlocked. In Seattle, 250 stolen guns were reported in 2017, according to police.

Carmen Best, the newly nominated Seattle police chief, was on hand at the ordinance signing ceremony on Wednesday morning.

Among the changes enacted by the new law:

- A gun owner must come to a police station or file a report quickly when a firearm is lost, stolen or used improperly by someone else. Failure to report a gun theft, loss or misuse could result in civil penalties.

- Gun owners could be fined up to $500 for failure to store a firearm in a locked container or to render it unusable to anyone but the owner.

- The fine would increase to $1,000 if a minor or prohibited person gets their hands on an unsecured weapon.

- The fine would increase even more - up to $10,000 - if a minor or prohibited person uses an unsecured firearm to cause injury, death or commit a crime.

Some survivors of gun violence believe the new resolution passed by the city council will save lives.

"Unsecured firearms are a public health threat," said Rev. Andrew Conley-Holcom from the Admiral Congregational Church. "Hundreds of children die each year from unintentional shootings and firearms suicide - often times committed with guns that parents and other adults left unsecured."

"For me, it's very simple. We're just trying to save one life at a time, said Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell. "One life at a time. And whether this law or any laws drastically change the needle, that concerns me less. We're trying to save one life at a time."

It's not the first time Seattle has enacted legislation meant to increase gun safety.

In 2013, Seattle became the first U.S. city to fund and conduct research into gun violence as a public health issue, gun violence prevention, and gun safety. The research showed that safe storage of guns decreased the risk of accidental firearm injuries and suicides by 73 percent.

In 2015, the City Council passed legislation to establish a tax on gun and ammunition sales to fund gun violence prevention research.

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