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King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg is trying to change a state law that lets juveniles get convicted five times for illegally possessing a gun before they face any real consequences. (AP image)

Lack of penalties encouraging young criminals to keep using guns

When a young person uses a gun illegally, you'd figure the system would crack down hard to nip the problem in the bud. You'd be wrong. Currently, it takes five convictions before a juvenile caught illegally possessing a gun gets put into longer-term juvenile detention.

But King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg is trying to change that. After failing twice before to convince state lawmakers to stiffen penalties, he's again proposed a new measure with State Sen. Adam Kline and State Rep. Chris Hurst, along with an unprecedented alliance between gun control and gun rights advocates.

Under current laws, a kid caught illegally possessing a gun the first four times can get up to 30 days in a local juvenile facility, but Satterberg tells The David Boze Show they usually do much less or no time and usually just get a slap on the wrist.

"They can get some probation or they can pick up some trash for a couple of hours or write a book report. That's about it."

Only after a fifth conviction for illegal possession of a gun do they get sent to the Department of Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration for a 15-week sentence.

It's one of the reasons gangs recruit and leverage young people to carry their guns, because they know they won't face any serious consequences, Satterberg says.

"That just seems ridiculous to me. People are pretty surprised to find out," he says.

That would change under the new law. Satterberg's proposal, SB5376 and HB 1096, calls for a mandatory 10-day sentence on the first conviction, and a 15-week sentence at the JRA for the second.

"Our present law does kids absolutely no favors at all by being lenient, because what happens somewhere between that first conviction and that fifth one, they usually pull that gun out of their pocket and shoot somebody."

Satterberg says the 15-week sentence is about more than just having kids "cool their heels." He's also advocating a new juvenile gun curriculum that counters many of the myths about guns young people see in video games and media, and warns them of the consequences.

While lawmakers have defeated similar proposals over budget concerns, Satterberg calls that short sighted, arguing it'll cost a lot more later on if a kid turns into an adult offender.

"We're going to pay all of that money to lock one kid up for 30 years after they've killed somebody."

Boze agrees. "If the programs you're talking about would actually work and divert even 20 percent of these kids [it seems] that your savings overall would be fairly swift over the period of a few years."

Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter/anchor and host of KIRO Radio's Seattle Sounds (Sunday afternoons 5-6p) and a digital content producer for MyNorthwest.com.
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