Among the bills being considered by the House Judiciary Committee was a measure requiring the safe storage of firearms. Another measure would allow relatives, law enforcement and others to secure a protection order to prevent a high-risk individual from possessing a firearm.
Victims of gun violence, families of people killed in mass shootings and police officers urged Washington state lawmakers Thursday to support a list of measures designed to keep firearms away from children and at-risk people, while gun-rights activists argued the proposed bills duplicate existing laws and would violate a gun owner’s constitutional rights.
Among the bills being considered by the House Judiciary Committee was a measure requiring the safe storage of firearms to avoid tragedies like school shootings, teen suicides and gun accidents, according to the dozens of people who testified. Another key measure would allow family members, law enforcement and others to secure a protection order to prevent a high-risk individual from possessing a firearm while that person poses a danger to himself or others.
“When kids have access to guns, no place is safe and everybody loses,” said Everett pediatrician Dr. Jane Lester, who treats some of the students who continue to be traumatized by the 2014 Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooting, carried out by a 15-year-old freshman using his father’s handgun. The boy killed four classmates and then himself.
Seattle Police Officer Adrian Diaz said 65 percent of school shooters in the past 25 years have taken the guns from their homes or a relative’s home.
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Phil Shave, executive director of Washington Arms Collectors, said he opposes House Bill 1747, arguing that creating a new crime of “child endangerment due to the unsafe storage of a firearm” is just another law that adds punishment to tragedy.
The Legislature considered both measures during the 2015 session, but both failed.
Twenty-seven states have passed “firearm safe storage” laws, while only three states have enacted legislation to allow for “extreme-risk protection orders,” according to Geoff Potter with the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. California lawmakers passed a protection-order measure after the mass shooting near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, in May 2014, he said.
The judiciary committee also considered a bill that requires law-enforcement agencies to destroy confiscated firearms and a measure that would let municipalities regulate firearms in certain places, like buses, parks and community centers.
But the safe-storage and extreme-risk protection order bills were the focus of many of the people testifying.
Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Lake Forest Park, said requiring gun owners to safely store firearms is common sense. About 1 million households in Washington state contain unsafe firearms and the children in those homes are at risk, she said.
Cindy Gazecki, the cousin of Marysville shooting victim Gia Soriano, 14, said her family continues to be devastated by the tragedy and a firearm-storage law might have prevented the shooting.
“In the year after Gia’s death, more than 35 other children just in Washington were killed by guns,” Gazecki said. “This is not a series of personal tragedies. It is a public health crisis, an epidemic, and it must be treated as such.”
But Brian Judy, with the National Rifle Association, said children die in many ways, from accidental poisonings to choking. If lawmakers expanded the bill to punish adults who fail to safely store poisons or other things that kill children, he might support it, he said.
“All kinds of things kill kids,” he said. “This is just singling out firearms.”
Raymond Carter, with the Citizens Committee for the Right to Bear Firearms, said the state’s reckless-endangerment law already covers this issue.
But Russ Hauge, a former Kitsap County prosecuting attorney, disagreed.
Hauge said he handled a case in 2012 after a 9-year-old boy took one of the many loaded guns left by his mother’s boyfriend in every room of their house and brought it to school where it went off, wounding a classmate. Hauge said he prosecuted the boyfriend for negligent storage of a firearm, but the Washington Supreme Court threw out the conviction, arguing it’s not a crime to keep guns in the house.
The safe-storage bill would ensure that an unsafe gun owner would be prosecuted, Hauge said.
Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, was the lead sponsor of the extreme-risk protection-order bill and said it would provide a tool for families when they see a loved one descend into extreme violence.
Cheryl Berenson, a nurse practitioner, said House Bill 2461 would act as a preventive measure to stop a person before tragedy hits.
“Let’s empower our families and friends to keep our communities safe,” she said.
But Phil Shave said the bill would allow law enforcement to take property from someone who has not committed a crime.
“This is a startling, un-American idea,” he said. “It’s designed to be abused by vindictive petitioners.”