Seattle City Council passes resolution that would levy fines for unlocked guns

KOMO News file photo

SEATTLE - A new city ordinance that would assess fines of up to $10,000 against gun owners who do not safely store their firearms has passed a vote by the Seattle City Council. It now awaits Mayor Jenny Durkan's signature. “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,” said Mayor Durkan.

The ordinance was drafted last month 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.

The new law will require the safe storage of firearms inside the city of Seattle unless carried by the owner or a lawfully authorized user. The ordinance also increases civil penalties and legal responsibility for failure to report unsecured firearms that are lost, stolen, or improperly used by an unauthorized user.

“The level of gun violence in our communities is not normal. ... We – and especially our children – should not have to live like this," Durkan said. "With Congress in the grip of the D.C. gun lobby and too many state legislatures failing to act, our cities must lead the way.

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

"This legislation seeks to encourage responsible behavior not punish residents," said Rev. Andrew Conley-Holcom from the Admiral Congregational Church. "Unsecured firearms are a public health threat. Hundreds of children die each year from unintentional shootings and firearms suicides. Often times committed with guns that parents and other adults left unsecured."

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.

Under the ordinance, a gun owner 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, and up to $10,000 if a minor or prohibited person uses an unsecured firearm to cause injury, death or commit a crime.

"Simply put: If more gun owners lock up their firearms, it will reduce accidental firearm injuries and deaths, help prevent youth suicide, and reduce access to guns among youth who have no legal right to purchase firearms," said council member M. Lorena González, who sponsored the ordinance.

Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell hopes the two laws will get more gun owners to think about safety first.

"For me, it's very simple. We're just trying to save one life at a time. 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," Harrell told KOMO News.

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.

It would take effect 180 days after it is signed by Durkan.

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