By Evan Smith
State Rep. Ruth Kagi and State Sen. Guy Palumbo are sponsoring bills in the legislature to require firearms storage.
The bills would hold a gun owner responsible if a child, violent felon, domestic abuser or anyone prohibited from access to firearm uses the owner’s gun to kill someone. The gun owner could be found guilty of the crime of community endangerment due to unsafe storage of a firearm.
The bills also would require firearms dealers to offer to sell or give the buyer a locked box, a lock or something to keep the gun from discharging.
Kagi had introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives last year, a bill that died in the House Judiciary Committee.
While last year’s bill required owners to keep guns from children, this year’s bill is aimed at keeping them from all people prohibited from having firearms.
Kagi said last week that she decided to widen the scope of the bill because of the shooting at the Cascade Mall in Burlington in September. The man accused of killing five people at the Cascade Mall had been under a court order not to possess firearms after a domestic violence charge.
While the 2016 bill died in a House committee, Kagi said that she now has renewed hope for such legislation after 69 percent of Washington voters approved a November statewide initiative that would allow courts to issue extreme-risk protection orders to temporarily prevent access to firearms, passing in 32 of the state’s 39 counties, and knowing that 2014 Washington voters gave 59 percent approval to an initiative to expand background checks for firearm sales and transfers and 55 percent disapproval to a measure that would have limited state gun restrictions. Kagi said she believes that legislators eventually will get the voters’ message.
Kagi said that one of her aims is to prevent youth suicide, 75 percent of which happen at home, mostly during a teenager’s moment of despair.
She said that groups supporting the bill are the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, Mothers Demand Action and Grandmothers against Gun Violence.
She introduced her bill in the House of Representatives last week with 31 co-sponsors, more than half of the 49 supporters it needs to pass in the House and more than double the 14 who signed on to last year’s bill.
Kagi’s bill, House Bill 1122, had a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday Feb. 2.
Palumbo introduced the companion bill, Senate Bill 5463.
“This bill is about accountability,” Palumbo said last week. “So many of the tragic shootings we have seen lately could have been prevented if the gun owner had simply taken the time to store the weapon properly. As a result of this legislation, I hope we’ll start seeing more news reports about people fulfilling their potential and less about lives being cut short.”
In a press release, Palumbo said that guns taken from the home have been at the heart of some of the most tragic gun violence incidents in Washington state. In addition to the Cascade Mall shooting, he pointed to the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooting by a 15-year-old boy. He added that during a 25-year period, more than 65 percent of school shooters obtained the firearm at their homes or at the home of a relative.
Kagi added, “When there is an unsecured gun in a house, it is too easy for a child to accidentally shoot themselves or their friend, or for a teenage moment of despair to turn into a tragedy. There is no single thing we can do to prevent all gun-related tragedies, but working to keep guns out of the hands of children and adults prohibited from possessing firearms will make a difference.”
Kagi and Palumbo said in the press release that it now is virtually impossible to hold anyone accountable if a child or prohibited person — such as a violent felon, domestic abuser or someone subject to a domestic violence or extreme risk protection order — accesses an unsecured firearm and uses it to kill or hurt themself or someone else.
They said that their bill is based on successful policies in Florida and 28 other states, bills that they say have helped keep guns out of dangerous hands.
Firearms dealers, in addition to offering to sell gun purchasers a lock box or device that prevents the firearm from discharging, also would have to post notices in their stores that failure to store a weapon properly or leave the weapon unsecured could result in criminal prosecution.
The press release noted that the proposed law would not mandate how a firearm should be stored — just require that adults take the responsibility of storing firearms in ways that they can’t be easily found by kids or anyone prohibited from possessing a firearm.
Among co-sponsors of Kagi’s bill are State Reps. Shelley Kloba, Lillian Ortiz-Self, Strom Peterson, Cindy Ryu and Derek Stanford.
State Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, is a co-sponsor of Palumbo’s bill.
Kagi and Ryu are Democrats representing the 32nd Legislative District, including the city of Lynnwood, parts of Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace, the town of Woodway and nearby unincorporated areas of southwest Snohomish County, the city of Shoreline and part of northwest Seattle.
Palumbo, Kloba and Stanford are Democrats representing the 1st Legislative District, including most of Mountlake Terrace, all of Brier and Bothell, north Kirkland, unincorporated areas of King County between Bothell and Kirkland, and unincorporated areas of Snohomish County north and east of Bothell including the Maltby area.
Liias, Ortiz-Self and Peterson are Democrats representing the 21st Legislative District, including most of Edmonds, unincorporated areas north of Edmonds and Lynnwood and northeast of Lynnwood, all of Mukilteo and part of south Everett.
Evan Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.