Gun owners in King County will now be required to securely store their firearms or face penalties. Photo by Michael Saechang/Flickr

Gun owners in King County will now be required to securely store their firearms or face penalties. Photo by Michael Saechang/Flickr

Secure gun storage ordinance approved by King County Council

A Bellevue-based gun rights group has already vowed legal action in response.

The King County Council voted 6-3 to approve a secure gun storage ordinance Oct. 1 that would require all gun owners in the county to store their guns in containers such as gun cages or lock boxes.

The new law requires that gun owners comply or, if they continue violating it after an initial warning, face a potential misdemeanor charge and a potential fine of up to $1,000 or a maximum of 90 days in jail.

Boyd Kneeland, a representative of Bellevue-based gun rights group the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), told Seattle Weekly that they will “absolutely” be filing a lawsuit against the county over the legislation’s passage.

“The staff will be pursuing legal action because it is a violation of the state preemption,” he said, referring to a state law that broadly prevents local governments from regulating firearms.

Spokespersons for the National Rifle Association (NRA) did not respond to Seattle Weekly’s requests for comment.

Back in July, councilmembers Joe McDermott and Jeanne Kohl-Welles rolled out the secure storage ordinance along with a package of other gun control measures, such as legislation requiring that the King County Sheriff’s Office destroy all forfeited firearms in its possession and that gun stores post signs warning patrons of the health dangers of guns. The mandate requiring that gun vendors post signage is still being deliberated by the county Board of Health.

The ordinances were framed by their backers as a public health-minded approach to address day-to-day gun violence in the county, such as suicides and domestic violence. In King County, an average of 130 people die every year from gun violence — the vast majority of which are suicides. King County Public Health estimates that nearly a quarter of households in the county have firearms, and 15 percent of these gun owners store their weapons loaded and unsecured.

“Secure storage is something gun owners should do as a minimum as part of responsible gun ownership,” McDermott said prior to the passage of the secure gun storage ordinance. “Secure storage keeps guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them: children, people in a moment of crisis.”

The bill received pushback from Councilmembers Kathy Lambert and Reagan Dunn, both of whom (along with Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer) voted against the final measure.

Lambert said people living in rural parts of unincorporated King County rely on guns to defend themselves because of the absence of local law enforcement. “It’s another example of [the council] not understanding how people who live in the rural area use their guns as a tool,” Lambert said of the ordinance.

In response, bill co-sponsor Kohl-Welles called the legislation “common sense” for all areas of the county — both urban and rural.

Dunn defended his dissenting vote against the legislation by arguing that the county will incur significant financial costs as a result of future lawsuits from SAF and other gun rights organizations.

“We’re going to get sued and more than likely going to lose, and it’s going to cost a lot of money,” he said at the council meeting.

He also pointed to the state preemption law as reason for the likely defeat of the secure storage ordinance. The City of Seattle is getting sued by SAF and the NRA over its own secure gun storage ordinance on the grounds that it violates the statute. Previously, Seattle approved a measure banning firearms in public parks, only to have it shot down in the courts in 2010.

“It is preempted by state law. The reason why preemption exists is to make sure that there aren’t a patchwork of laws across the state,” Dunn said.

While Kneeland with SAF couldn’t say when his organization will file legal action against the county, he said that it could “certainly be soon.” He added that he was unsure at the time if SAF is planning to coordinate with the NRA to take on the county’s new secure storage ordinance.

Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who voted for the ordinance, argued at the meeting that it isn’t settled whether their secure storage ordinance will violate state law: “I don’t think it’s clear cut. It is debatable.”

“It’s an appropriate public health response that comports with the law that will do some good and save some lives and prevent some injuries,” he added.

In contrast, the council unanimously passed motions directing that a task force be established to identify other strategies for reducing gun violence, the creation of a report on the impact of gun violence, and an ordinance requiring that the King County Sheriff’s Office destroy all of the confiscated firearms in its possession. Notable exceptions to the latter ordinance are weapons that could be used by deputies; also, firearms identified as antiques won’t have to be destroyed, and the sheriff’s office can still sell surplus weapons to an official law enforcement dealer that doesn’t sell to individuals.

While other regional law enforcement agencies have come under fire for selling surplus firearms that ended up involved in violent crime, Ryan Abbott, a spokesperson for the King County Sheriff’s Office, wrote in an email that the agency has not recently sold forfeited firearms.

Meanwhile, Initiative 1639, which would raise the legal age to buy semi-automatic weapons and strengthen background checks statewide, is slated to appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

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