Gun sales went up around Seattle, and haven't come down: Today So Far
Starting in 2020, the Seattle area has purchased a lot more guns than usual.
This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for May 26, 2022.
If you live in the Seattle area, there are a lot more guns around you than before.
I previously looked at local spikes in gun sales in 2020. The year wasn't even over, but the numbers were too dramatic to ignore. The story was the same no matter where you looked in western Washington — background checks for firearm purchases massively increased starting in about February 2020. Gun sales have remained high ever since. The national buying spree caused an ammunition shortage that continues to this day.
In Washington, a background check must be conducted whenever a person purchases a firearm (or firearms) like a semiautomatic rifle or a handgun.*
The Seattle Police Department** ran 6,707 checks 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.
Since 2020, people in the Seattle area have bought a lot more guns than usual.
At the risk of conflating causation and correlation (and the wide range of factors around this topic), it should be noted that gun-related injuries and deaths have increased during this same time. Fatal shootings in King County went up 54% in 2021, while non-fatal shootings went up 82%. The victims are disproportionately people of color.
There are a few factors we have here in Washington that are different from other states, like Texas, which is in the news this week. A person under the age of 21 cannot purchase a semiautomatic rifle in Washington. The state also recently approved a law to limit magazines to 10 rounds.
Dr. Fred Rivara leads the Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center. He calls these "common sense" gun laws.
"We do have universal background check laws, which means that anybody buying a firearm has to have a background check to see are they allowed by federal law to buy a firearm," Dr. Rivara said. "Such a universal background check law does not exist in the state of Texas."
Washington also has a relatively new program called Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs). These allow law enforcement or civilians to request that firearms be removed from people exhibiting threatening behavior to themselves or others.
Why bring all this up now? Guns are yet again taking over headlines. It was an elementary school this week. A grocery store last week. And a church before that.
The United States has experienced 213 mass shootings so far in 2022 (and 27 school shootings). If that number sounds tragic, consider that mass shootings amount to less than 1% of all the people shot each year.
Guns are in our world. Different people have them for varying reasons. That is not changing anytime soon. Do you know how an ERPO works? If there is a firearm around you, how is it stored? And are there children nearby? With an estimated 8.4 million new gun owners across the United States in 2020 alone, there are probably a lot more questions we should all be asking, and even pressing to lawmakers.
*Note: Not all guns require state background checks. Some may require federal background checks, which the numbers in this article do not represent. And a single background check could be run for a purchase of multiple guns. What is the takeaway? The number of background checks is not an exact count of guns purchased, but it does represent a trend and is likely an undercount of actual guns purchased.
**Another note: The police department where the customer lives conducts the background check. So if you buy a gun in Tacoma, but you live in Seattle, then the Seattle Police Department runs the check. Background check numbers reflect where customers are bringing guns home, and not where they are purchased.
Also on KUOW.org:
- How a Seattle kindergarten teacher broached the Texas shooting with his students
- How to help your kids process what happened in Uvalde
AS SEEN ON KUOW
A moment of silence is led by kindergarten teacher Kevin Gallagher on Wednesday, May 15, 2022, at Bryant Elementary School in Seattle. Gallagher discussed with KUOW how he handled class in the wake of a tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. (Megan Farmer / KUOW)
DID YOU KNOW?
I mentioned ERPOs above. Do you know how they work?
Washington state implemented a law for Extreme Risk Protection Orders in 2016. In short, these are kind of like restraining orders. But instead of establishing that a person has to stay away from another person, an ERPO aims to keep a person away from guns. Between 2016 and 2020, about 500 temporary ERPOs were issued in Washington state.
Law enforcement, or family members (other situations qualify too), can petition a court to have firearms removed from an individual if there are signs they are a threat to themselves or others. If a court issues an ERPO on a person, local police will take custody of their firearms. They are not allowed to possess any guns for a year. That timeframe can be extended.
If you live in King County, there is an ERPO advocate available to you. You can get more information here.
ALSO ON OUR MINDS
Hours after a gunman killed 19 children and two adults in an elementary school shooting in Texas, the White House nominee to head the country's firearms bureau appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and held out one of the few possibilities for Democratic lawmakers to take action on gun safety this year.