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King County Council considers permanent gun give-back program

Four King County council members are proposing a permanent gun give-back program for the county — Rod Dembowski, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Joe McDermott and Girmay Zahilay.

King County has conducted firearm return efforts in the past. But the current proposal would establish a permanent program. The idea is to offer people the ability to turn in firearms and ammunition to any sheriff's precinct, or other approved location. KIRO 7 reports that 716 firearms were turned in to King County during a return program in 2013; a total of 1,172 guns were handed over to the Seattle Police Department in 1992.

It is unclear if the proposal aims to set up a "buyback" program, or a voluntary hand-over situation. King County already has a voluntary program for people to turn in unwanted weapons and ammunition, according to the King County Sheriff. And the Council proposal itself does not mention the words "buy" or "buyback." However, Councilmember Rod Demobowski did use the term "buyback" while talking with KING5 about the proposal. The proposal itself does suggest looking into providing "monetary or other incentives to encourage community participation in the program."

The proposal cites current trends of mass shootings, including the racist incident in Buffalo, New York, as well as the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. It further notes that King County has experienced rising gun violence in recent years — shots fired in the county were up 54% in 2021, shooting victims were up 70%, and fatal shootings were up 54%.

The proposal also states: "the 460 shooting victims reported in 2021 were disproportionately people of color at 81% and 48% of fatal and nonfatal victims identified as Black."

The Council's proposal doesn't set up the program itself. Rather, it requests that the King County executive research the feasibility of such an effort, and develop a plan to implement one.

Along with an uptick in shootings, the region has also experienced a surge in the presence of guns. The Seattle Police Department ran 6,707 background checks for gun purchases in 2019. That's on par with the years before that. That number more than doubled in 2020 — 15,825 background checks. In 2021, Seattle ran 10,766 checks.

The King County Sheriff's Office covers unincorporated parts of the county, as well as about a dozen communities (Sammamish, Maple Valley, the Muckleshoot Tribe, for example). KCSO ran 14,999 background checks for firearms in 2019. In 2020, it ran 28,522 checks. In 2021, it ran 25,923.

The background checks are performed by the law enforcement agency where the customer lives, and a single check could be run for a transaction with multiple firearms. They therefore indicate where the guns are going home to after they are picked up from a store.