Under the legislation sent by Mayor Jenny Durkan to the City Council, Seattle would penalize gun owners up to $10,000 for allowing their firearms to be obtained and used for harm by children or at-risk people.
Rather than wait for Congress and the state Legislature to pass additional gun regulations, Seattle should take a step on its own by penalizing gun owners $500 to $10,000 for failing to lock up and safeguard their firearms, Mayor Jenny Durkan said Thursday.
Durkan is sending legislation to the City Council that would make it a civil infraction to store a gun without the firearm being secured in a locked container and rendered inaccessible or unusable for any person other than the weapon’s owner or authorized user.
The change would only apply to guns kept somewhere, rather than those carried by or under the control of owners or authorized users.
The legislation also would make it a civil infraction when the owner of a gun knows or should know that a minor, an “at-risk person” or unauthorized user is likely to access the weapon but then fails to prevent that from happening.
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The council will consider the move during a year in which mass shootings at schools and elsewhere have led to a surge in gun-safety activism by students and others across the country.
A week ago, a 17-year-old armed with a shotgun and pistol obtained from his father opened fire at a Houston-area school, killing 10 people and injuring others.
In 2014, a 15-year-old used a pistol obtained from his father to fatally shoot four classmates and himself and injure another classmate at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.
In 2015 in Washington state, someone under 17 was killed by gunfire every nine days, on average, Durkan’s legislation says.
“The level of gun violence in our communities is not normal, and we can never think it is inevitable. We — especially our children — should not have to live like this,” she said in a statement.
“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 — and we must all continue to demand action that saves lives.”
The mayor developed the legislation with Councilmember M. Lorena González, she said, pointing to a new study on gun storage in Washington. In the study published by the American Journal of Public Health, only 36 percent of respondents who reported a firearm at home said they stored it locked and unloaded.
For a storage infraction under the new legislation, Seattle would impose a fine of up to $500, and for an access-prevention infraction, a fine of up to $1,000.
In the case of a minor, at-risk person or unauthorized user obtaining a gun and using it to hurt someone or commit a crime, the fine would be up to $10,000.
In 2012, a Marysville police officer was charged with manslaughter after his 3-year-old son fatally shot the boy’s 7-year-old sister with a gun the officer had left in the family’s parked van. But the charges were dismissed after a hung jury.
In addition to imposing fines, the legislation would pave the way for lawsuits. In civil proceedings, the new infractions would be considered initial evidence of negligence.
An at-risk person would be defined as anyone “who has made statements or exhibited behavior that indicates to a reasonable person there is a likelihood that the person is at risk of attempting suicide or causing physical harm to oneself or others.”
In making the case for the changes, the legislation cites statistics on local gun storage and violence.
An estimated 150,000 adults reported keeping firearms unlocked in their homes in King County in 2015, and at least 250 guns were reported stolen in Seattle last year, the legislation says.
In March, when Durkan and González first announced their intention to develop gun-storage legislation, a spokesman for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Bear Arms predicted the legislation could run afoul of a state law that prohibits Washington cities from regulating guns. At the time, the mayor said she expected her proposal to be challenged in court but expressed confidence Seattle would prevail because the legislation wouldn’t stop anyone from buying, carrying or transporting a gun.
“Requiring guns to be safely locked when not carried or in the control of a person in no way violates an individual’s Second Amendment rights or Washington state law,” the legislation says.
The legislation says law-enforcement officers would have the authority to issue an infraction notice based on seeing one or having reasonable cause to believe a violation has occurred. It says a court also would have the authority to issue a notice.
The recipient of a notice would have 15 days to contest it in Seattle Municipal Court and appeal rulings from there to state Superior Court.
Under Durkan’s proposal, enforcement of the new legislation would be postponed for 180 days, to allow time for rule making and public-awareness efforts, she said.
The legislation would direct Seattle’s police chief to survey compliance with the new laws and would order the city auditor to assess impacts on gun injuries and deaths.
“If more gun owners lock up their firearms, it will reduce accidental firearm injuries and deaths, help prevent suicide and reduce access to guns among youth who have no legal right to purchase firearms,” González said. Nearly 80 percent of gun deaths in Washington between 2010 and 2017 were from suicide, the legislation says.
Seattle requires gun owners to report any lost or stolen firearms within 24 hours, and breaking that law is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $500. A separate piece of legislation that Durkan is sending to the council would increase that penalty to a maximum fine of $1,000 and would make the infraction initial evidence of negligence in civil proceedings.