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Seattle City Council passes gun safety legislation

The Seattle City Council unanimously passed two gun safety bills to thunderous applause Monday in an effort to reduce gun violence in the city. Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a statement praising the Council’s vote almost immediately stating,

“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. We know that unsecured, unsafely stored guns help fuel this crisis of violence because they are more likely to cause accidents, fall into the wrong hands, or be used in suicides. Requiring that gun owners responsibly store their guns can help make our communities safer places to live. In the coming weeks, I will sign this legislation into law– and we will keep acting to prevent tragedies.”

Mayor Durkan, along with Councilwoman Lorena Gonzales,  introduced the legislation in May after a recent University of Washington study found that almost two-thirds of gun owners in Washington State do not store their firearms locked and unloaded. The study also found that safe storage decreased the chances of death of a minor due to a firearm by 73%. Explained Gonzales,

“These are a suit of laws, particularly the safe storage law, that will have a measurable impact on keeping our children safe. They are a public health solution to a public safety problem.”

CB 119266, requires safe storage of firearms within the city limits, making it a civil infraction punishable by fines. Though what qualifies as “safe storage” is not defined in the bill, specific storage requirements will likely be specified in rules issued at a later date by the Chief of Police. CB 119267 increases the fine for failing to report a lost or stolen firearm to $1000.

As Councilwoman Gonzalez explained to the Council, the bills are not as comprehensive as the city would like or as the proposed Initiative 1639, due to considerations of state law preemption. The legislation will take effect 180 days after it is signed by Mayor Durkan and includes an educational component in an attempt to ensure that people understand their responsibilities before penalties are imposes.

The waiting period also leaves ample time for expected legal challenges. Even the scaled down legislation has drawn criticism from gun rights supporters who claim it is preempted by a state law prohibiting municipalities from regulating, “the entire field of firearms.” Councilwoman Gonzales, however, confidentially assured the council,

“We believe we are on good footing to defend this in a lawsuit based on preemption, [because the legislation] does not regulate what a person does with a gun on their person, but how it is kept.”

Whether that proves true, will likely be a matter that the courts decide in coming months.