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King County Council approves proposal for permanent gun, ammo return program

The legislation requests the county executive to assess the feasibility of a permanent program so anyone can return an unwanted firearm.

SEATTLE — The King County Council unanimously approved a proposal that asks King County Executive Dow Constantine to assess the feasibility of a permanent, voluntary firearm and ammunition return program on Tuesday.

If implemented, the program would be operated by the King County Sheriff's Office. It would allow anyone to take an unwanted firearm or ammunition to any precinct or storefront operated by the sheriff's office, including in 10 contract cities. 

The legislation also asks the sheriff to seek partnerships with cities in King County to further expand access for people to return firearms.

"I think it can save lives by reducing the number of guns that are out there because we know that guns in homes dramatically increases the risk to folks living in those homes," said Councilmember Rod Dembowski at the full council meeting last Wednesday. 

King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall said the county already has a voluntary return program. She said the returned firearms are sent to a facility in eastern Washington where they are destroyed. The county's proposal would likely allow for the expansion of this program. 

"We know that sometimes there are firearms that people don't want, or sometimes we know a parent finds a firearm their child brought into the house," said Cole-Tindall.

Under the proposal, Constantine will be asked to assess whether the sheriff's office can hold one or more special buy-back events each year, the ability to provide monetary or other incentives to encourage participation and the overall cost of a year-round voluntary safe firearm and ammunition return program. 

Buy-back events have seen a high turnout. This summer Kirkland has hosted two buy-back events where police collected 151 firearms. They distributed $18,350 in gift cards for the weapons. The city plans to hold a third event sometime in September. 

"Any number of guns that we are able to take off the street, I mean that is a success," said Cole-Tindall.

Cole-Tindall said while she supports a more robust return program she doesn't believe it will have a significant impact on the county's current rise in gun violence. 

"We know that there are a lot of illegal guns on the streets so I don't think (a gun return program) is going to take care of (gun violence)," said Tindall. She believes the program needs to be a piece of the county's overall plan to combat gun violence. 

Council members acknowledged at their meeting Wednesday that more needs to be done to combat gun violence. King County Council held a gun violence prevention discussion Wednesday with community groups. It was the second of three meetings the council hopes to use to help draft possible violence interruption legislation.  

The gun and ammo return proposal's report said programs vary but can commonly include "anonymous or “no questions asked” participation." Tindall said that's a detail she feels needs to be discussed before any formal approval. 

"We'll have to look into that. I do not know what the ordinance that the county is proposing would say but I think if it's a stolen firearm, we're still a law enforcement agency where our primary job is to enforce laws," said Cole-Tindall.

RELATED: King County council members want to make it easier to voluntarily surrender guns, ammo

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