Guns Seized in Few Abuse Cases
Thursday, November 15, 2007 3:57 PM

Gun seizure programs in Seattle and King County of Washington, USA,  have come under criticism due to perceived inadequate implementation and follow through.  The seizure programs stem from a 1993 federal law which prevents those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses from possessing guns in the hopes that the offenders won’t later be able to use these weapons against their spouses or others.  According to the Washington State Coalition against Domestic Violence, in the past decade firearms have accounted for over 56% of domestic violence fatalities. However, since the seizure programs were enacted four years ago, few guns have been confiscated in domestic violence cases.  In 1996 Seattle prosecuted 1,771 misdemeanor domestic violence cases, yet in only 33 cases were guns seized.  In King County only 93 individuals turned in guns out of 1,418 reports of domestic violence.

Defenders of the program argue that it is difficult to determine who is in possession of a firearm, or, even if they do surrender a gun, to prevent the offender from turning around and buying another gun off the street.  Prosecutors seeking a gun surrender order are forced to rely on statements from victims or evidence of existing concealed weapon permits.  Even with this evidence, offenders can circumvent the system by simply signing an affidavit that they gave the gun to a friend. In addition, inadequate funds are cited as the reason for the lack of training of officers working under the program.  Furthermore, prosecutors face the additional challenge of overcoming weak gun registration laws that hinder enforcement of surrender orders.  Lawmakers have traditionally been reluctant to toughen the laws in the face of pressure from gun-activists groups.

Despite these arguments, some experts in the field claim that law enforcement agencies are simply reluctant to enforce the law.  While departments are willing to go after guns used in crimes, officers have been reluctant to actively seek and remove firearms in the home.

In spite of the programs shortcomings, Seattle and King County must be credited with being one of the few jurisdictions in the country to even have gun seizure programs.  Many states have failed to pass any legislation regarding gun seizure, and those that have limit the law to only allowing for gun surrender if the firearm was used in a crime.

Compiled from:Guns seized in few abuse cases: Efforts to protect domestic violence victims lag,” Levi Pulkkinen, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 15 November 2007.