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King County Council approves wide-scoping Gun Safety Action Plan

(US Air Force photo)

Washington already has I-1639, the massive gun control initiative that will be on the November ballot, as well as Seattle’s new safe storage law. Now, King County has its own gun control initiative.

RELATED: Seattle council unanimously passes safe storage laws for gun owners

The King County Council voted Monday to approve its Gun Safety Action plan, encompassing four gun safety measures proposed by Councilmembers Jeanne Kohl-Wells and Joe McDermott that cover a lot of ground.

The overall theme is to treat gun violence like a public health crisis.

“Over 35,000 people are killed every year…victims of gun violence, across our country and it’s something we need to respond to (as) a public health crisis much like we have tobacco use and vehicular deaths,” said McDermott.

“This is a start at doing this. No single piece of legislation, no single package will solve the problem but we have to start taking incremental steps that solution,” he added.

The four initiatives include the creation of a firearm safety task force to study the public health responses to gun violence, specifically focused on intervention and prevention.

A second initiative requires the sheriff’s office destroy all guns it legally seizes from criminals, rather than re-sell them.

“There’s no reason why we need more firearms out on the streets. If a firearm is forfeited, seized legally, the policy of the last at least three sheriffs has been to destroy those firearms, and we want to encode that in county ordinance,” McDermott said.

Among the more interesting initiatives is the commissioning of a youth-led report on gun violence.

“Whether it’s crime or mass shootings, or whether it’s a gang shooting, or whether it’s suicide, it is important to be talking to youth. They experience this and they experience it in their schools on their streets, in their neighborhoods, in their communities, and to hear from them and make sure that we’re not just adults coming up with solutions we think are going to work, but taking solutions advanced by youth and implementing them I think is going to be essential in one of those prongs of approach to the public health crisis,” McDermott said.

Lastly, is a safe storage measure that requires people to lock up their guns, loaded or not.

“Recent studies showed that 21 percent of adults in Washington, 1 in 5, report having a gun in or around their home, and of those owners almost half reported these guns were stored unlocked. 15 percent reported they were stored unlocked and loaded,” said McDermott.

Specifically, McDermott is referencing a 2018 study in the American Journal of Public Health that evaluated the 2015 Washington State Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data, which included a broad survey of Washington state residents.

Unlike Seattle’s safe storage law, McDermott says the county initiative includes trigger locks as acceptable means for locking up your gun, as well as safes and locked cabinets, similar to Seattle’s law. While the county’s initial proposal included criminal penalties for people who don’t safely store their weapons, that was changed in committee. The version that was eventually passed only included civil penalties that would start with a warning, and increase to fines as high as $10,000 depending on the circumstances.

The NRA and Second Amendment Foundation sued over Seattle’s safe storage law, and are expected to do the same now that the county’s law has passed.

“They can take whatever action they need to,” McDermott said. “I need to take action to address gun violence, and until state and federal government does all it can, it’s left to local governments to do what we can. Safe storage is a key piece of that.”

The basis for the lawsuits are that safe storage violates the state preemption law, that prohibits cities and counties from enacting their own gun laws stricter than the state law.

But — like Seattle – McDermott believes safe storage falls outside of that.

“I’m not proposing to ban the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons, I’m not proposing age restrictions that I believe are imperative to addressing this crisis, because those are clearly preempted,” McDermott said. “I’m working within the authority of local government to protect our communities.”

McDermott says if the state legislature is not going to pass stricter gun safety measures on its own it needs to get out of the way of cities and counties that want to do it on their own by repealing the state preemption law.

If that happens, the county’s gun safety action plan calls for immediately moving on to enact stricter gun laws, such as banning semi-automatic, high velocity weapons, banning high capacity magazines, raising the age to buy all guns to 21, establishing a waiting period, and requiring a firearm safety course in order to buy a gun.

The council voted through the controversial gun storage initiative on Monday afternoon by a 6-3 margin, with the three other initiatives passing unanimously.

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