Gun violence and gun crimes are a perennial challenge for law enforcement authorities. Virtually every conceivable approach has been tried. Some of the efforts to reduce gun violence have been moderately successful. Others have not. The City of Seattle is focusing on safe gun storage.
This new and controversial gun storage statute took effect on February 13th. What does the new law require of gun owners? What are the penalties for gun owners who are not in compliance with the new law? And will the new gun storage law really make the city safer? Can a Seattle weapons crimes lawyer help?
WHAT DOES THE NEW STATUTE REQUIRE?
The new Seattle gun storage law requires gun owners to secure their firearms in containers that cannot easily be removed, opened, or in the words of the law, “otherwise defeated by the use of common tools,” including gun cases, gun cabinets, safes, and lock boxes.
The new law also increases the penalties for any “failure to report unsecured firearms that are lost, stolen, or improperly used by an unauthorized user.”
WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR VIOLATING THE NEW STATUTE?
Seattle’s City Council passed the gun storage proposal back in July 2018. Gun owners who fail to comply with the new statute may be fined up to $500 if a firearm is not properly locked and secured.
However, the fine is $1,000 if an “at-risk person,” a minor, or any other unauthorized person gains access to a firearm. The fine is $10,000 if anyone uses an unsecured firearm to commit a crime or to injure someone.
The National Rifle Association and others filed a lawsuit last year that would have stopped the new law from taking effect. The suit claimed that state law in Washington prevents cities from regulating firearms. A King County Superior Court judge dismissed that lawsuit back in October.
WHY WAS THE NEW GUN STORAGE LAW NEEDED?
The new gun storage statute is a response by the Seattle City Council to some disturbing statistics.
A University of Washington survey published in the American Journal of Public Health reported last year that nearly two-thirds of the households with firearms in our state were not storing those firearms safely.
That means approximately 150,000 gun owners in King County have – at some time – left their firearms unsecured in their residences.
WHAT ELSE DOES THE RESEARCH TELL US ABOUT GUN STORAGE?
In 2013, the City of Seattle funded research by the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center. That research indicated that safe firearms storage reduces the risk of accidental suicides and other gun injuries by more than seventy percent.
And in 2015 in this state, thirty-nine children age 17 and below died due to gun violence. Six of those children died in King County.
The City of Seattle also took more than 3,100 guns “into custody” in 2015, 2016, and 2017. And in 2017, 250 firearms were reported stolen in Seattle. That’s a lot of potential risk to the public.
In 2018, the City Council decided to act. Mayor Jenny Durkan proposed the new gun storage law. “This is the kind of action we need to save lives. While we can’t prevent every gun death or injury, we can take steps to help prevent future tragedies,” Mayor Durkan told KING 5 News.
IS COMPLIANCE WITH THE NEW LAW EXPENSIVE? IS IT COMPLICATED?
A July 9, 2018 press release from the Office of the Mayor explains, “The Chief of Police will be given one year from the legislation’s signing to conduct a survey on initial levels of compliance.”
There are a number of effective ways that gun owners can safely secure their firearms. Firearms experts recommend using safes, lockboxes, or gun vaults with a combination, push button, or keypad lock.
Safe firearm storage doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. Locking a firearm is easy. Locking devices can be purchased at gun stores, safe stores, sporting goods stores, hardware stores, and online. All gun safes and lock boxes are tax exempt in the state of Washington.
WHAT ABOUT THE STATE’S OTHER GUN LAWS?
The law in Washington spells out which firearms are legal and who may legally own, use, and transport a firearm. The state’s gun laws are intended to prevent gun violence and to protect the public from gun violence.
If you are charged with violating any gun law, you must arrange at once to consult an experienced Seattle criminal defense attorney. The right attorney will develop an appropriate, effective strategy for your defense.
If you are charged with a gun crime in this state – any gun crime – but the police violated your rights during a search, an interrogation, or an arrest, your defense lawyer may be able to have the charge against you reduced or dismissed.
HOW ARE PENALTIES DETERMINED FOR FIREARMS OFFENSES?
For most gun offenses in our state, it’s not possible to know in advance precisely what the penalties will be for a conviction. A criminal court will take into account a number of factors including the severity of the crime and the defendant’s previous convictions if any.
You can’t expect leniency if you are convicted of a gun crime in the state of Washington. A $500 fine for failing to secure a firearm probably may not ruin your life, but if your firearm is stolen and is subsequently used in a crime, you will very much need a criminal defense lawyer’s help.
Washington’s many firearms laws are designed to protect the public, but those laws are quite technical and complicated, so it’s not hard to misunderstand the law and find yourself facing a firearms charge.
IF YOU’RE CHARGED WITH A FIREARMS CRIME, WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS?
If you face a firearms charge in the Seattle area, you have the right to remain silent. Be polite, but do not answer any questions until you can speak to a good criminal defense lawyer. That is your right.
A conviction for a firearms offense can very negatively affect your own future and your freedom. After any arrest on a firearms charge in the Seattle area, it is imperative to contact an experienced Seattle criminal defense attorney. Do it at once. Your future could depend on it.