Council unanimously approved legislation today dedicating funds to enforce the 2014 state law that enabled courts to require domestic violence abusers to surrender their firearms. The funding was sought because, in spite of the state law, enforcement of surrender orders has been weak. In 2016, 56% of orders in Seattle were completely ignored, while, for the 36% of respondents who filed paperwork claiming that they did not possess a firearm, there is no verification that those declarations are accurate.
In November 2016, Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Tim Burgess identified this gap in the system and championed a budget proposal that created the firearm surrender program, established protocols to be successful, and identified gaps in the system between arrest, conviction, and gun surrender. These additional funds will create the robust firearm surrender program that Seattle needs to protect domestic violence survivors and the public.
“These newly created positions will help finally bring victims some peace of mind,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess (Position 8, Citywide), Chair of the Council’s Finance Committee. “Our laws only have power to the extent that we actually enforce them. If an abuser can ignore gun surrender orders or file a form falsely claiming that he or she does not have a gun without consequence, then we haven’t done much to improve safety.”
Approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience severe physical abuse by an intimate partner during their lifetime, according to a CDC study. Further, when a firearm is present, violence in the home is five times more likely to end in a homicide.
“We know that over the last 7 years 54% of mass shootings cases involved domestic or family violence. A fully funded firearm surrender program is critical to ensure the safety of both domestic violence survivors and the public at large; it is the most important thing we can do today to save lives,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw (District 7, Pioneer Square to Magnolia).
The funds will be used for a dedicated Court Coordinator who will review domestic violence protection orders and crosscheck firearm and criminal history databases. The Coordinator and co-workers will also interview victims and families to determine if perpetrators retained firearms. That information will be shared with the courts and the police. Further, a new prosecutor position will be hired and dedicated to high-risk cases. The prosecutor will work with the Court Coordinator to facilitate the surrender of firearms and file criminal charges against non-compliant parties.
Councilmember Bagshaw added, “On the first day utilizing the newly established surrender protocols in March, the Seattle Police Department and King County Sheriff’s Office recovered eleven guns from the homes of people who were not legally allowed to own a firearm and had denied ownership. I expect we’ll only get more effective in our pursuit of domestic violence perpetrators moving forward.”
Additionally, these positions will also help implement statewide Initiative 1491, which allows families to petition to remove firearms from individuals who may be a danger to themselves or others.
The legislation will take effect 30 days after Mayor Murray signs it. These positions were created because the statewide legislation neglected to include funding to implement the program’s requirements. The funds were approved as part of the City’s first quarter supplemental budget.