King County tackles short and long term plans to restrict local gun violence

Jul 6, 2022, 5:28 PM

(Photo by: Citizen of the Planet/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)...

(Photo by: Citizen of the Planet/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

(Photo by: Citizen of the Planet/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

King County Council addressed the need to make guns less accessible while also stressing the importance of providing essential resources — housing, career opportunities, health care, education — to those in more impoverished areas of the county during its meeting Wednesday morning.

“I will never forget the day that our prosecutor’s office showed me a map of where gun shooting incidents occurred. And how that map looks eerily similar to the map of where we have highest poverty rates in King County,” King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said in the meeting. “So we have a lot of work to do on both the close up, downstream, at the shooting itself level, but also upstream level, making sure that we invest in these communities that are seeing disinvestment so that they can live healthy, thriving lives.”

The discussion on gun violence prevention was originally scheduled to respond to the mass shooting at Uvalde, Texas.

Since the tragedy in Uvalde, 106 mass shootings have occurred across the U.S., resulting in 113 casualties and 493 people injured, according to Gun Violence Archive. On July 4, seven people were killed alongside 30 injured during a mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois.

“Over the July 4 weekend, 220 people were killed in just one weekend,” Zahilay said. “220 people were killed by gun violence, and 570 others were shot. And the most devastating part of this carnage is that these are preventable. These are preventable.”

Washington state has passed new legislation on preventing gun violence, including banning the sale or distribution of magazines larger than 10 rounds, while also establishing Extreme Risk Prevention Orders (ERPO). ERPOs can prevent individuals at high risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms by allowing family, household members, and police to obtain a court order when there is demonstrated evidence that the person poses a significant danger.

After years of stalled efforts, state lawmakers approve ban on high-capacity magazines

“Last year, the legislature passed a law to prohibit the sale or possession of the homemade, untraceable ghost guns,” said Rebecca Johnson, policy expert for the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. “We’ve also done a lot of work around open carry and armed intimidation. We saw especially in the last couple of years of a huge increase in violence.”

The bipartisan Safer Communities Act was signed by President Biden last week, which provides $750 million nationwide for crisis intervention programs designed to keep guns out of the hands of individuals that a court has determined to be a significant danger to themselves or others.

The law also closes the ‘boyfriend loophole,’ which refers to an individual who’s convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, as part of a dating relationship, who would not have been prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm prior to the enactment of this bill, according to Government Affairs Director Matt Nicholson.

“The federal bill creates two new crimes, one for gun trafficking and one for straw purchasing, which make it easier to go after those who are buying guns for individuals who are not allowed to purchase weapons on their own,” Nicholson said. “And then the bill makes a number of investments both in schools and family mental health services. To highlight a couple of those, it includes $150 million to support implementation of the 988 suicide crisis lifeline.”

WA lawmaker says launch of 988 system has the opportunity to ‘save lives’

“While mass shootings get significant attention, understandably, it’s really important to see the whole epidemic. Over 50% of firearm deaths in our nation are suicide. In King County, that’s even more true among firearm deaths. There were three times as many suicides as homicides,” said King County Councilmember Joe McDermott. “And the problem with suicide by firearm is if someone attempts suicide by firearm, they’re more than likely to be successful. People who attempt suicide by other means, are successful at a much lower rate. And people are not likely to attempt suicide a subsequent time. We can save that life and not lose it to firearm violence.”

Washington treads near the nationwide average in terms of number of firearms in households and the number of firearm deaths, according to Dr. Frederick P. Rivera, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington. Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama have very permissive gun laws and a much higher firearm ownership rate. Consequently, those states also have a much higher rate of firearm deaths. States like Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island possess more firearm restrictions and have a much lower rate of firearm ownership and, therefore, a lower rate of firearm deaths.

“You can see that we have much higher rates of homicides than any other developed country in the world,” Rivera said. “It’s not like we are a more violent country than some of these other places. It’s really that we have easy access to firearms that result in these high rates of homicides.”

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