Just a few days after the National Rifle Association and other gun advocates sued the City of Seattle over a law requiring safe storage of firearms, King County lawmakers say the county should follow the city’s lead with its own storage law.
The county could also go further, requiring gun sellers to post prominent signs warning that “the presence of a firearm in the home significantly increases the risk of suicide, homicide, death during domestic violence disputes and unintentional deaths to children, household members and others.”
The signs would have to be at least 8.5 by 11 inches, written in 30-point type, and posted “conspicuously, in a manner that it is easily read.” Failure to comply would result first in a warning, then in a fine of $100 for every day the sign is not displayed.
The proposals are part of a package of legislation county council members Joe McDermott and Jeanne Kohl-Welles unveiled Tuesday. In an interview, McDermott compared warning signs at gun stores to warnings on cigarettes.
"We have a public health crisis on our hands," McDermott said of gun violence. “This is employing a successful public health strategy in this public health crisis."
McDermott said 136 licensed firearm dealers operate in King County. Nationwide, about 36,000 people died as a result of firearms in 2015, about 714 of them in Washington and 146 in King County, according to McDermott's legislation, which cites Centers for Disease Control and state Department of Health data. King County-area firearm deaths cost nearly $200 million “in medical costs and lost productivity,” according to the legislation.
The county safe storage law would require gun owners to keep their firearms in safes or lock boxes or to equip them with trigger locks. Violators would first receive a warning and then face a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail. By contrast, Seattle’s law requires guns to be stored in containers like safes. Seattle’s penalty is civil, not criminal, though fines could be as high as $10,000 if a gun that was not safely stored is used to injure someone.
During city council discussions about the bill, Council Member Lorena González said she favored a civil instead of criminal approach because of the criminal justice system’s disproportionate effects on people of color. McDermott said Tuesday that a criminal penalty is “really about setting the public expectation about responsible gun ownership.”
The NRA and Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation sued over Seattle’s law Friday. Alan Gottlieb, SAF executive vice president, said in an email his organization “will defiantly file suit if the county passes this law."
If approved by the King County Board of Health, the signage law would apply to all gun sellers across the county. The safe storage legislation, on the other hand, would go through the county council and apply only to unincorporated areas of the county.
Kohl-Welles and McDermott also propose three other measures: codifying the sheriff’s department current practice of destroying forfeited or confiscated firearms, requesting a report from the county executive about youth gun violence, and convening a group to study public health responses to gun violence.
McDermott and Kohl-Welles are also soliciting ideas from the public for other regulations and calling on the state legislature to lift the state law barring local governments from enacting most gun regulations.
The local chapter of the student-led movement March for Our Lives is backing the package of proposals.
Emilia Allard, a recent Ballard High School graduate and founder of the local group, said in a statement, “We hope this can serve as a guideline for surrounding counties and succeed in ending gun violence as the new norm."