City Hall

Seattle City Council Adds 2 Positions to Help Seize Illegal Firearms

A court coordinator and assistant city prosecutor will be hired later this year.

By Hayat Norimine May 8, 2017

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Seattle City Council in February 2017. 

The state now has several laws in place enforcing firearms to be surrendered in high-risk situations, like domestic violence. In 2014 state legislators passed a bill requiring that those with protective orders also surrender their firearms. And last year state voters approved Initiative 1491, allowing family members or officers to petition the courts for extreme risk protection orders for people who pose significant danger to others or themselves. 

A study by Everytown For Gun Violence released in March said 54 percent of mass shootings involved domestic or family violence in the past seven years. But there's been little oversight to ensure the laws in place to protect domestic violence survivors are actually being enforced, city officials said. 

Seattle council members on Monday approved the 2017 first-quarter supplemental budget that included allocations for two new full-time positions in the City Attorney's Office—a court coordinator and assistant city prosecutor—for a program to recover illegal firearms in domestic violence cases. The new hires will start sometime this year. The salaries, a total of $207,000 for a full year in 2018, will come from the general subfund, according to the ordinance summary. 

"We have these great laws in the books, and no one's enforcing them," city attorney Pete Holmes said in an interview with PubliCola last month.

This year Seattle began a one-week pilot period to test the program. In six days, the Law Department and Seattle police recovered 11 firearms, officials said.

"Enforcement of these court orders has been sporadic or perhaps you could even say nonexistent," Burgess said at the council meeting Monday. Burgess called enforcing these measures "critical." He cited a Centers for Disease Control study that said domestic violence cases are five times more likely to end in a homicide when the abuser has access to a firearm. 

The court coordinator would track domestic violence protection orders, registered firearms through state and federal databases, and the level of risk involved. High-risk cases will be referred to the high-risk firearms prosecutor and can lead to search warrants and felony charges.

"We're creating a model that will be available to other cities across our state," council member Sally Bagshaw said Monday. 

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