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Seattle gun owners could face fines, liability for unsafe storage of firearms

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced her plan to seek safe storage legislation in March at Harborview Medical Center.
KUOW Photo/Amy Radil
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced her plan to seek safe storage legislation in March at Harborview Medical Center.

Gun owners who don’t store their guns securely could face new civil penalties under legislation unveiled Thursday by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. Durkan said the goal is to reduce gun deaths including accidents and suicides.

Durkan said her new legislation, which she has now forwarded to the Seattle City Council, will prioritize education over enforcement, with a long phase-in and a public awareness campaign. But ultimately, when a gun figures in a shooting or other crime,  Durkan said investigators will ask how it was stored.  

“Were they locked up? And if they weren’t locked up, then there can be penalties,” she said.

Read: Fatal gun violence looks different for Seattle kids, depending on where they live

Seattle would be the first city in Washington to regulate the storage of firearms, but some other states and cities have similar provisions in place.

If an unsecured gun shows up in a crime or accidental shooting, the owner could be fined up to $10,000 and face negligence claims. The proposal also doubles the existing penalty for failing to report stolen guns, to $1,000 from $500.

Alan Gottlieb with the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation said he met with Durkan and offered to support a safe storage campaign, but not new mandates or penalties.

“Gun owners who have to buy into this don’t really trust Seattle city government at all, since they’ve attacked their rights so many times,” Gottlieb said. “But if it’s more of an education campaign it could have a better chance to work.”

Gottlieb said the city didn’t have specific language to review at the time of their meeting, so he hasn’t determined whether his group would file a legal challenge.

A recent study from the University of Washington found that 63 percent of gun owners in Washington do not store their guns unloaded and in a lockbox. Durkan said she was inspired in part by student walkouts against gun violence.  

“There are only so many things a city can do because of state law,” she said. “This is something we can do that’s meaningful.”

Washington state law generally prohibits local governments from overstepping state gun regulations. The courts struck down Seattle’s ban on guns in parks and community centers in 2012. But a city tax on guns and ammunition was allowed to proceed.

Durkan said if the proposal is approved by the Seattle City Council and becomes law, her main measure of success will be fewer gun deaths. The city put money toward research at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, which found that safe storage of guns decreased the risk of both accidental injuries and youth suicides by 73 percent.

“If you lock up firearms, you prevent deaths and injuries and crimes,” she said. “This is not an attempt to infringe on anyone’s right to own a gun, carry a gun. We’re just saying if you leave it, lock it up.”

Seattle City Councilmember M. Lorena González is sponsoring the legislation and said it will be considered by the Council in the coming weeks. 

Year started with KUOW: 2005