State looks at stern laws for juveniles with guns

OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers began exploring a proposal Thursday that would send more youths into a rehabilitation program if they are caught illegally possessing a gun.

In a committee hearing before the state House, King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said current law leaves the impression that the state tolerates juvenile possession of firearms by allowing them to quickly return back to their ways. He said it’s important to send a message about the long-term consequences of using a gun.

“A lot of what we’re trying to do here is turn a kid’s life around,” Satterberg said.

Democratic Rep. Christopher Hurst, an Enumclaw lawmaker sponsoring the bill, said the state needs to help kids avoid making foolish decisions that will change their lives forever.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington opposed the bill, with legislative director Shankar Narayan saying the effort could actually start the process of cycling people in and out of prison for the rest of their lives. He said there’s no evidence that the proposal would help decrease youth violence and that the plan takes away options from judges.

State officials project that the bill would cost between about $1 million to $3 million per year, and the ACLU believes that money would be better spent on other intervention efforts.

“We need to spend our precious public safety resources where they will actually make a difference,” Narayan said.

The measure handles cases depending on age, type of conviction and past offenses, but many juveniles convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm would face an initial sentence of at least 15 weeks in the rehabilitation program.

The House Judiciary Committee did not take a vote on the measure.

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