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

Under the proposed program, anyone could take their unwanted firearms or ammunition to any precinct office operated by the King County Sheriff's Office.

SEATTLE — Members of the King County Council want to make it easier for residents to safely surrender unwanted firearms or ammunition through a proposed year-round return program as the country grapples with gun violence and mass shootings.

Rod Dembowski, who is co-sponsoring the proposal with three others, is seeking to convert sheriff precincts, storefronts and other county-contracted departments to allow for safe storage and return of firearms and ammunition.

Under the proposed program, anyone could take their unwanted firearms or ammunition to any precinct office operated by the King County Sheriff's Office, including in the 10 contract cities where it provides police services.

Dembowski said past gun buyback programs have shown how effective such a program could be if made permanent.

"Just as King County's previous firearm buyback program led to over 700 firearms voluntarily leaving the streets, a firearm and ammunition return program will give residents a safe, secure, and reliable option to remove these items from their home," Dembowski said.

In 2013, King County and the City of Seattle coordinated a gun buyback program where over 700 firearms were surrendered to law enforcement.

"About half of the hospitalizations involving firearm injuries are unintentional," Dembowski said. "We think the evidence shows if we reduce the numbers of firearms in circulation, that will have a positive effect in reducing injuries and death."

In King County, the overall number of shootings was up 54% and the number of overall shooting victims was up 70% in 2021 over the four-year average for 2017-2020, according to the county's year-end data. There were 17 more fatal shooting victims and 102 more non-fatal shooting victims in 2021 as compared to 2020.

Nationwide, the U.S. has already seen more than 240 mass shootings in 2022, including Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas last month, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

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The proposed measure isn't a new idea as the King County Sheriff's Office has had a voluntary program in place since 2015 at certain drop-off locations.

"We have policies in place for taking in unwanted firearms, but I look forward to working with the King County Council to consider expanding this into a program that will promote community safety throughout King County," said Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall.

The measure asks the sheriff's office to expand access and reduce barriers for those wishing to turn over their firearms and ammunition.

King County Undersheriff Jesse Anderson said the department supports the idea, but that most offices are not currently equipped to be converted overnight. 

"I think this is a team effort. It's not just the sheriff's office getting out there saying 'please turn in your weapons.' We need some support along the way, financial backing to be able to make this work," said Anderson. "The problem with turning it into a storefront is we don't have secure facilities there to be able to log those in. You know, they're not staffed 24/7."

Dembowski said his office has already "checked the legal boxes" on the legislation.

"We've got the resources to do this at King County. I think it's a good investment. I mean a couple injuries from firearms or deaths, the cost involved in that in a systems perspective is enormous," said Dembowski.

The measure will get a public hearing in early July, and Dembowski said it could take three to four months for such a program to be implemented.

The measure is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Joe McDermott and Girmay Zahilay.

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