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Seattle council unanimously passes safe storage laws for gun owners

(US Air Force photo)

The Seattle City Council unanimously approved two gun control regulations Monday, originally proposed by Mayor Jenny Durkan, that require safe storage of firearms. Seattle residents now face penalties if they do not safely store their firearms or report lost and stolen guns.

“For me it’s very simple,” said Council President Bruce Harrell. “We are just trying to save one life at a time. Whether this law or any law drastically changes the needle, that concerns me less. We are trying to save one life at a time.”

RELATED: Study says majority of Washington gun owners do not safely store firearms

The pair of ordinances are aimed at the city’s gun violence problem that has spiked in recent years. At the same time, recent studies indicate that the majority of Washington gun owners do not practice safe storage of firearms. Councilmember Lorena González said that the safe storage ordinance is a “common sense” rule.

“These are a suite of laws, particularly the safe storage law, that will have a measurable impact in keeping our children safe, and our communities safe from gun violence,” González said. “All of the research we have been reading … really does tell us that safe storage of firearms in the home makes a huge impact in terms of keeping our community safe.”

According to Mayor Durkan’s office, 150,000 adults in King County are estimated to store their firearms unlocked. About 250 guns were reported stolen in 2017, according to the Seattle Police Department.

Seattle’s safe storage regulation

Seattle’s safe storage regulation, and the rules on reporting lost and stolen guns, state:

  • Safe storage: Guns should be stored in a locked container, and rendered as unusable to any person other than the owner or authorized user.
  • Unauthorized access prevention: It will be a civil infraction if a minor, at-risk, or prohibited person obtains a firearm when the owner should have reasonably known they would have access to it.
  • Violation of the safe-storage law, or the unauthorized access regulation could result in a fine between $500 and $1,000.
  • If a prohibited or at-risk person, or a minor obtains a firearm and uses it to commit a crime, injure or kill someone (including themselves), the gun owner could be fined up to $10,000.
  • If a civil case results from prohibited access, it will be “prima facie evidence” that they are negligent. That means it is immediately a fact, unless proven otherwise.
  • The new gun law will go into effect 180 days after it passes and Mayor Durkan signs it.

The future of Seattle’s safe storage law

Some predict that the new gun control laws will quickly head to court. That includes former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. He has noted that Seattle has run into issues in the past when passing firearm-related bills. The city previously attempted to ban guns in parks, but that law was thwarted and knocked down via a lawsuit.

Seattle, however, successfully passed and defended a gun tax that is still in effect. McKenna says that the details of Seattle’s safe storage law will be argued sooner or later.

“I assume they’ll make the argument that the state statute does not address storage,” he told KTTH Radio’s Jason Rantz. “Now it does address possession and one could argue that storage is an aspect of possession.”

“Is regulation of safe storage specifically authorized by state law? I don’t know that it is,” McKenna said.

Council President Harrell addressed legal aspects of the new regulations before the council voted Monday.

“It’s complicated world,” he said. “But at the end of the day we are doing everything we can, given the hand we are dealt in the existing legal scheme.”

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