In a supplemental budget request, King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed an additional $650,000 for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office to better enforce court orders to surrender weapons when civil protection orders are issued.
King County Executive Dow Constantine included $650,000 in additional funding for the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office to increase enforcement of Orders to Surrender Weapons and Protection Orders, including Extreme Risk Protection Orders.
“For too long, those seeking protection from their abusers have been left wondering whether the system is doing all it can to keep them safe,” said Executive Constantine. “It should be simple and consistent: when there’s a protection order, the guns should be removed. By making sure we have the tools and resources to vigorously enforce laws already on the books, we live up to our commitment to protect all those who seek to escape domestic violence and begin a new life.”
An estimated 4.5 million women in the United States have been threatened with a gun held by their intimate partner. When a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, the woman is five times more likely to be murdered. In 54 percent of domestic violence homicides in Washington between 2006-2015, the defendant had previously been ordered to surrender firearms.
After years of advocacy from survivors and families, the Legislature in 2014 unanimously strengthened federal laws prohibiting domestic violence abusers from having access to weapons when certain Protection Orders are issued by Superior Courts, District Courts or Municipal Courts.
However, no resources were provided to implement the law. Available data shows that very few firearms are currently being surrendered, and enforcement is sporadic.
Last year, the King County Board of Health unanimously passed a resolution supporting a review of potential new actions to more effectively keep victims safe.
Led by Judge Anne Levinson (ret.), a workgroup recommended best practices for enforcing these orders across all jurisdictions in King County, and establishing a new multi-jurisdictional, regional team that will manage the data entry, service, tracking, enforcement of the orders and the receipt, storage and return of surrendered firearms.
The Executive’s funding request to the King County Council would support four new positions within the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office: a firearms prosecutor, a victim advocate, a paralegal, and a staff person to help quickly resolve problematic orders and provide additional information to the Court. The Executive’s request would also support two positions in the King County Sheriff’s Office - a detective and records specialist who will be assigned to the team.
For too long, those seeking protection from their abusers have been left wondering whether the system is doing all it can to keep them safe. It should be simple and consistent: when there’s a protection order, the guns should be removed. By making sure we have the tools and resources to vigorously enforce laws already on the books, we live up to our commitment to protect all those who seek to escape domestic violence and begin a new life.
The Legislature and the voters have authorized judges to order the temporary relinquishment of firearms in individual cases when it will enhance public safety, but these court orders are not self-executing. The promise of increased safety inherent in the court order can only be kept by creating a dedicated team working daily to ensure the safe transfer and storage of firearms.
Abusers and their firearms know no geographical boundaries, and I am excited to partner with King County in this ground-breaking regional approach that has been created to ensure firearms are removed from the most dangerous hands. I will continue to champion this work in the City, working with our City Council and new Mayor until our commitment to funding necessary staffing levels - to keep firearms out of the most dangerous hands - is realized.
This is a common sense recommendation that will save lives, and it’s something supported by an overwhelming majority of Washington voters. As part of this regional approach, the Seattle City Council funded a firearms prosecutor and enforcement coordinator earlier this year, and I’m truly grateful to Executive Constantine for proposing further funding for this countywide effort. The City Council has committed to funding the manager of this regional team and additional law enforcement personnel in the upcoming budget.
Domestic violence and other crisis situations often escalate quickly, and are much more likely to turn deadly if firearms are accessible. Laws that keep guns from abusers have proven effective in saving the lives of women and children, but to work they must be implemented and enforced. We applaud Executive Constantine for requesting additional funding to hire staff who are critical to facilitating the surrender of firearms. These new positions will help save lives in King County and represent the Executive's continued commitment to reducing gun violence.
Addressing the intersection of domestic violence and firearms is a public health and public safety priority. We owe it to domestic violence victims, their children and the community to ensure there is coordinated, effective, swift and certain enforcement of the law. Executive Constantine’s leadership in funding this new approach, and the collaboration of the King County Prosecutor, Seattle City Attorney and law enforcement agencies across the region will make a real difference in the lives of many domestic violence survivors.
You can't imagine how terrifying it is just to know a gun is within reach, especially when you know how quickly things can escalate to violence. Time can mean the difference between life and death. Almost 35 years ago, I thought I was out of time. With a firearm in his hand, my husband threatened to kill me, anyone who might help me, and even himself. I'll never know what changed his mind in that instant, but I do know that removing firearms from unpredictable domestic violence offenders will save lives.
For more information, contact:
Alex Fryer, Executive Office, 206-477-7966