Feds pledge to prosecute Seattle gun crimes to highest degree

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by LINDSAY CHAMBERLAIN / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on June 18, 2012 at 7:19 AM

Updated Monday, Jun 18 at 7:05 PM

Federal prosecutors said Monday they will use their jurisdiction to take on all of Seattle's gun cases to send a message to criminals.

"Today we want to send a very clear message: If you bring a gun to a crime you will do time, and you will likely will do federal time," said U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkin.

Support to curb Seattle's gun violence will come through pressing maximum federal prison time upon those who commit gun crimes and strict supervision of convicted felons.

"We cannot prosecute our way out of this problem. But we will prosecute those who are the problem," said Durkan.

Previously, federal officials only prosecuted the city's worst gun violations, leaving county prosecutors to take on the remaining cases and apply state charges, sometimes more lenient than federal charges.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, Deputy Police Chief Nick Metz and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterburg stood with Durkan, stressing the significantly higher penalties of federal law.

"If you commit a gun crime in Seattle, we will arrest you.  We will work with our partners at the Prosecutor's Office and U.S. Attorney's Office to ensure that you get the maximum time," said Seattle Police Deputy Chief Nick Metz.

Between January and May of 2012, 21 people in Seattle have lost their lives due to homicide -- already one more than all of 2011. Besides working against guns on the street, officials said mental health, youth prevention programs, community awareness and even gun safety play a role in the problem.

"The wrong hands holding a gun -- that's the only common denominator in all the crimes we've seen," said Satterberg.

According to Seattle Police, since January 1, 2012, a total of 361 guns have been recovered in Seattle, but 81 guns have been reported stolen.

"Lock your guns," said Metz. I'm willing to bet the majority of those 81 guns were not locked away safely."

Interviewed prior to the press conference, McGinn said changes to state law could make a difference, but the city cannot afford to wait.

"Gun control laws can make a difference, and we support sensible changes to our gun control laws. But we also know Olympia hasn't changed them when we've asked before," McGinn said. "We're not going to wait for it. We're going to keep pushing for it, but we're not going to wait for it."

Click here to watch the Mayor's complete interview.

Federal charges may help stop the cycle of violence, McGinn said, but the city must also strike the right combination with Seattle Police and the community.

"Our focus is going to be on having police presence, but more than that, is a partnership with the community to identify those individuals who have guns and who may use them so we can try to reach them before that happens."

Later Monday evening, the community will converge at Town Hall Seattle, near 8th and Seneca, where one of the more violent murders happened just last month.

At 7:30 p.m., the public is invited to "Public Safety: A Community Conversation," with Mayor McGinn, Seattle Police and others. Right outside the building on May 30, Gloria Leonidas was carjacked, shot and killed. Four other people died at the hands of the same gunman that day when he opened fire at the Cafe Racer.

Some members of the Seattle City Council have called for a change to state laws that they say bind the hands of city leaders. Currently, state law reads, "Local laws that are...more restrictive than state law shall not be enacted."

A national gun prevention group, The Brady Campaign, has joined the effort, arguing a word change in Washington state law could in cases prevent concealed weapons permits being issued to people with mental health issues.

"Public Safety: A Community Conversation," is free for all to attend with RSVP. Click here for more info.

KING 5's  Linda Brill contributed to this report.

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