Given the preemptive authority of state and federal law, there's not much that local officials can do to curb gun violence and promote firearm safety. But in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre and other tragic shootings locally and nationwide, Seattle-area officials are determined to do whatever they can.
At a January 8 press conference at Seattle's Mount Zion Baptist Church, Seattle mayor Mike McGinn, King County executive Dow Constantine, and a host of government and community leaders announced a new Gun Safety Initiative featuring Seattle's first gun buyback program since 1992 and the distribution of free trigger locks and gun safety information. The initiative will be funded entirely through private donations, including $30,000 from online retailer Amazon and $25,000 from the Seattle Police Foundation.
"This is just one tool in the toolbox" for addressing a broader public health challenge, McGinn emphasized.
"If we can prevent just one child, one innocent bystander, from being the victim of a random accident or the target of an unstable person, it will be well worth our time and effort," added Constantine.
The first gun buyback event will be held on Saturday, January 26, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the parking lot beneath Interstate 5 between Cherry and James Streets. Subsequent events will take place at locations throughout the county.
Modeled on successful programs in Los Angeles and other cities, participants will receive gift cards valued up to $100 for surrendering handguns, rifles, and shotguns, and up to $200 for assault weapons. The no-questions-asked buyback program will be coordinated by the Seattle Police Foundation, a nonprofit that supports local police officers, and the process will be totally anonymous: no pictures will be taken of participants, no license plates will be written down, and no ballistics tests will be conducted on surrendered weapons. Unwanted ammunition will also be collected.
Efforts will be made to return lost or stolen weapons to their rightful owners—the rest will be melted down by Nucor Steel, which is donating its services free of charge.
Critics argue that gun buybacks do little to measurably decrease the total rate of gun violence (though an NRA-sponsored congressional funding ban makes it difficult to study), but even a statistically insignificant impact can be significant to a potential victim. And Kurt Geissel, owner of Seattle's Cafe Racer, where a tragic shooting took place last year, argues that doing anything is better than doing nothing.
"You can do something, even if it's a small thing, whether financially or throwing away some guns or ammo," encourages Geissel. "You never know what might happen."