Research, ERPO, and safe storage — Seattle makes a start at gun control reform

As her city prepares for Saturday’s student march for gun control, Mayor Jenny Durkan came to First Hill’s Harborview Medical Center Wednesday, the place many gun violence victims are rushed to from across the region, to announce a push for new legislation that would require safe storage of firearms and could hold gun owners liable who don’t lock up their weapons.

“We should not pretend for one second that the level of carnage in our country from guns is inevitable. We cannot allow it to become the new normal,” Durkan said. “Unsecured, unsafely stored firearms are more likely to be stolen, used in a suicide, accessed by children and teens and unintentionally fired.”

Thousands of students from across the state are expected at Cal Anderson Saturday for the Seattle March for Our Lives, part of protest marches across the country in the wake of the Parkland, Florida mass shooting:

March For Our Lives – Seattle

City Council member Lorena González, who will be the prime sponsor on the bill, said research shows 40% of adults in the county leave their firearms unlocked, unsecured. “We’re taking seriously the call to action from youth and their families to address gun violence in our schools, our communities, and within our own homes,” she said, also sharing her own story of having to “hit the deck” at a party in her youth when gunfire broke out.

The planned legislation would require “safe storage of firearms,” according to the mayor’s office, and will increase “civil penalties and legal responsibility” for owners who don’t report stolen firearms within 24 hours as is already required by law.

The new Seattle effort will undoubtedly face backlash from the gun industry — and legal challenges. City Attorney Pete Holmes was at Wednesday’s announcement and said his office was ready to defend against any “inevitable challenges that come forward.”

Wednesday’s announcement is part of a wave of gun control efforts across the country and representative of some of the smaller but hopefully still impactful initiatives taken by cities to try to stem the tide of mass shootings and ongoing gun violence. CHS looked at other local gun control initiatives here.

Seattle has also moved forward on other efforts:

  • In 2015, the Seattle City Council passed legislation to establish a tax on gun and ammunition sales to fund gun violence prevention research. Although the City Council continued funding gun violence prevention work at Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center, the revenue was initially blocked due to ongoing litigation. With the tax upheld by the State Supreme Court, this proposal will invest 2018 revenue and future gun and ammo tax revenues in Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center’s work to help individuals with firearm injuries.
  • In 2013, Seattle became the first city in the nation to conduct basic research on gun safety. The City Council-funded research led to a report from The Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center that established that “gun violence begets gun violence.” The research found that individuals hospitalized for a firearm injury were 30 times more likely to be re-hospitalized for another firearm injury than people admitted to the hospital for non-firearm related injuries.
  • In addition, the City of Seattle and Seattle Police Department launched a new site, seattle.gov/ERPO, to ensure all Seattle residents can easily complete an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO). An ERPO was designed to give family, household members, and law enforcement a way to petition the court to restrict the access and ability for a person with health crisis issues to purchase or possess firearms. In Seattle, 18 ERPOs have been petitioned by law enforcement with 37 weapons recovered.

Acting Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said Wednesday she wondered how “things would have been different” if the Extreme Risk Protection Order process was in place at the time of the Cafe Racer shootings. “From Columbine to Newtown to Parkland, we are constantly reminded that Extreme Risk Protection Orders are more important than ever. These protection orders won’t prevent every act of gun violence, but we know they are already making a difference,” the SPD chief said.

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