Today, on the one-year anniversary of the shooting that killed nearly 60 people in Las Vegas, the King County Council passed a package of gun control measures. Most significantly, all firearm owners in the county will have to safely and securely store their firearms.
Councilmembers Kathy Lambert, Reagan Dunn, and Pete von Reichbauer were the three dissenting votes for the safe storage measure. The other measures—the mandatory destruction of all firearms forfeited to the King County Sheriff, a youth-led report on reducing gun violence, and forming a task force to identify other public health strategies—passed unanimously.
The measure will require gun owners to keep their firearms in lock boxes, gun cages, or other forms of secure storage. Violators would first receive a warning and then a civil infraction with a penalty of up to $1,000.
“This legislation is so important,” Councilmember Joe McDermott, the sponsor of this bill, said. “It calls on owners of firearms to store them safely and securely. Responsible storage helps keeps the gun out of the hands of someone who should not have it. This harm is not theoretical.”
McDermott, as well as several other councilmembers and public commenters, commented on the inherent dangers of having unsecured guns in a household. These guns get in the hands of children, they are used for suicide, and women are five times more likely to be killed in domestic violence cases where a gun is in the house.
An estimated 21 percent of Washingtonians have guns in their houses. Half of these are stored unlocked. Of those, 15 percent are unlocked and unloaded.
One public commenter said he didn’t understand why responsible gun owners and not “the bad guys” were being targeted. He cited his own responsibility.
“I never shot anybody before 1968 and I have not shot anybody since 1969,” he said. (That didn’t really help his cause but what the fuck happened that year?)
Seattle passed a law requiring gun owners to safely lock up their firearms or face potential civil penalties in July. The city is now battling a lawsuit by gun owners. Both Dunn and Lambert are concerned that the county will face similar suits.
“What we’re doing here today has already been ruled—as recently as last August—,” Lambert said, citing some Danny Westneat article in the Seattle Times, “as being unconstitutional.”
Similarly, Reagan Dunn had this vote of confidence to go with his no vote: “We’re going to get sued and we’re more than likely going to lose and it’s going to cost a lot of money,” Dunn, who owns three gun safes, said.
One of those safes is in his car. He said it "takes quite a lot of time to get into." Dunn, you'll recall, pleaded guilty to a DUI charge in 2014 when he drove his car into a ditch on a fairly straight stretch of road.
Councilmember Lambert is also a gun owner. She says she represents the rural perspective. In the rural part of the county people use guns as tools, she said. Guns also make women, like herself, feel safe. She said that guns reduce domestic violence, contrary to the statistic about guns adding to domestic violence fatalities.
Both Lambert and Dunn worry that requiring safe storage will prove unsafe in the long run. That’s because it takes somewhere between 40 to 5o seconds to open these safes. Their concern is that gun owners won’t be able to access their guns in case of emergency and, by the time that they do, it will be too late.
The other council members were not swayed. Some shared how gun violence had touched their lives.
“If a small measure can save just one life, it is probably worth it,” Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who knew a 16-year-old boy killed in a drive-by shooting, said. “We owe it to everyone who has both been a victim, survivor, or a potential victim to take the steps we can, to protect a law-abiding citizen’s right to bear arms and have responsible gun safety measures.”
An earlier version of this post stated that criminal conviction of up to 90 days in jail was a possible penalty for violating the safe storage laws. That was an earlier form of the measure that was amended two weeks ago by Councilmember Joe McDermott.