The King County Council on Tuesday, July 26, 2022 unanimously approved a proposal to create a permanent voluntary safe firearm and ammunition return program within the King County Sheriff’s Office.
The measure was sponsored by King County Councilmembers Rod Dembowski, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Joe McDermott, Girmay Zahilay, Sarah Perry and Claudia Balducci.
“I am committed to doing everything I can to reduce gun violence in King County,” Dembowski said. “Reducing the number of guns in circulation will reduce the number of accidents, injuries and deaths caused by guns. And we know from past experience that people welcome the opportunity to turn unwanted guns over to a responsible party for disposal. This program will make that resource available to residents countywide, and I’m hopeful that we can stand it up as soon as possible.”
The program will enable any person to take an unwanted firearm, or ammunition, to any precinct office or storefront operated by the King County Sheriff’s office, including in the 10 contract cities where it provides police services. The legislation also asks the Sheriff to explore partnerships with cities in the county to further expand access and reduce barriers for residents wishing to turn over firearms or ammunition.
The U.S. has seen more than 356 mass shootings in 2022, including the horrific events in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas in May.
“Our communities in King County, like communities around the country, have experienced a painful spike in gun violence since the start of the pandemic,” said Renée Hopkins, CEO for the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. “We know that it will take a comprehensive, public health response to address this urgent crisis. Offering residents a safe, consistent option for returning unwanted firearms and ammunition is an important part of that public health approach.”
According to the most recent data available, the number of overall shooting victims in King County was up 70%, and the number of shooting fatalities was up 54% over the 4-year average from 2017 through 2020. In Washington state, 75% of all gun deaths are suicides, according to the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.
“Time and again, we’ve seen the devastating effects of gun violence on our communities,” Zahilay said. “Gun violence is awful, tragic, and — above all else — preventable. The gun buyback program is a small but important step in making our communities safer through a simple, voluntary process, and I’m proud to support it.”
King County has a record of implementing successful programs and policies to increase gun safety, including requiring the destruction of forfeited firearms, encouraging safe firearm storage and enforcement of Extreme Risk Protection Orders. Past voluntary firearm and ammunition return programs, including a gun buyback program coordinated by King County and the City of Seattle in 2013, have proven to be effective in removing firearms from homes and communities. At the 2013 event, 716 firearms were safely surrendered to law enforcement.
“If we have heard anything from survivors of gun violence, it is that if someone didn’t have access to a gun in a moment of crisis, then their loved one may still be here,” Kohl-Welles said. “This program will be a safe way to dispose of unused or unwanted guns so that in a moment of crisis, it isn’t sitting down the hall. Thank you, Councilmember Dembowski, for bringing this legislation forward, and especially to the many community members who have been part of our recent conversations on gun violence in Committee of the Whole.”
The legislation requests the executive to assess the feasibility of a permanent program, so that an individual may peaceably deliver and abandon any unwanted firearm or ammunition to any King County Sheriff’s Office location.
“The number-one job of any leader is to keep residents safe,” Perry said. “With that in mind, I join my colleagues, and safe gun owners everywhere, in this great step forward to explore the best actions we can take for our communities throughout King County to ensure that guns are kept out of the hands of those who intend to do harm to themselves or others.”
“Households with guns are more likely to experience gun violence, which can include heightened risk for suicide and domestic violence in homes,” Balducci said. “Providing a means to dispose guns that people don’t want or need, is one way to reduce the dangers of firearms in homes. I’m happy to co-sponsor and vote for this bill.”
“The statistics are tragically clear – firearm ownership is a dangerous reality for individuals and families,” McDermott said. “King County has a duty to promote the safety of all residents, and we must provide an opportunity to safely rid themselves of firearms if they wish to do so. This is one of many steps needed to continue the work to eliminate the horror and tragedy of gun violence in our region, I look forward to the Sherriff’s work to implement this important program.”