A new Seattle-King County task force is working on the other end of gun safety: smartly enforcing the laws Washington already has.

Share story

A Seattle-King County law enforcement task force has an effective new approach to enforcing protection orders that call for taking guns away from domestic abusers and others.

In just a few months, nearly 200 guns were picked up from people subject to domestic violence or extreme risk-protection orders. And the task force is just getting started.

About 141 firearms were relinquished during a three-month pilot in 2017 — more than all the guns collected by Seattle and King County law enforcement in 2016. Another 50 have been collected since the Regional Domestic Violence and Firearms Enforcement Unit officially began its work two months ago. In one case, 30 guns were picked up from one person.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg sees a lot of potential benefits from this project, including suicide prevention.

Most Read Opinion Stories

Unlimited Digital Access: $1 for 4 weeks

Although since 2014 Washington state law has required many people served with domestic-violence protection orders to give their weapons to police, many do not obey these court orders. A dedicated team in a regional unit is actively trying to change that, as well as enforcing other kinds of civil and criminal protection orders.

The regional team is a big improvement in the system. The biggest fear is that without this effort, people will come to court and get a protection order, and no one will enforce that order and a tragedy will occur.

The interagency team made up of prosecutors, law enforcement, advocates and staff will serve the entire region and has a $1 million budget from Seattle and King County. Other states are passing similar laws and trying to figure out how to remove firearms from abusers, but our region is the first with a standing team to enforce firearms-removal orders.

“You can’t just ask an overwhelmed police department to do this in their spare time,” Satterberg maintains. The team is covering entirely new ground, helping people feel comfortable temporarily surrendering their weapons. These highly skilled police officers and sheriff’s deputies have managed to keep their interactions with these gun owners calm and professional.

In addition, the team also can obtain search warrants or take legal action when someone claims they do not have a gun in contrast with information the victim has presented to the court or the team has discovered.

The task force also has opened up a new online resource page to help Washingtonians learn about protection orders and more easily obtain one: http://protectionorder.org

Most people don’t know that they can work through the courts to get weapons out of the hands of family members who have threatened them or from friends who have expressed thoughts of suicide. Nor are they aware that state law requires people served with domestic violence protection orders to surrender their firearms.

Interestingly, there is a lack of opposition from strong supporters of gun rights. As some who oppose new gun regulations say, the country may see less gun violence when existing rules are enforced.

This nation still needs more and better gun regulations — most urgent is a ban on millitary-style assault weapons like the weapons commonly used in mass shootings. But this task force is a welcome move in the right direction.

Information in this article, originally published March 2, 2018, was corrected March 3, 2018. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that federal law required people served with domestic violence protection orders to give their weapons to police. The current version also characterizes members of the interagency team.