More than 200 community members engaged with the Kirkland City Council on the topic of gun safety and community safety at a Town Hall on June 20 at the Lake Washington High School Theater. Photo via Twitter

More than 200 community members engaged with the Kirkland City Council on the topic of gun safety and community safety at a Town Hall on June 20 at the Lake Washington High School Theater. Photo via Twitter

Kirkland continues gun safety discussion

The city’s sales tax measure would address some ideas raised by the community.

After several months of dialogue on community and gun safety, the city of Kirkland plans to take action on some of the “top ideas” contributed by citizens.

The issues of gun safety and school safety have been around for decades, but the killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida reignited the debate in communities around the nation, including in Kirkland. There was “building energy around the notion that the city could and should act,” said assistant city manager Jim Lopez.

Lopez reviewed the community feedback and ideas at the July 17 Kirkland City Council meeting, seeking direction on which to bring back for review and potential adoption. The community and council input will also inform many city planning processes, including the 2019 legislative agenda and the 2019-20 biennial budget and city work program.

The city sought comments on “methods of promoting safe and responsible gun ownership at the state and local level in order to reduce mass shootings, homicides, suicides and accidental shootings.”

Most fell into four categories: state and local legislation on firearm safety; improved enforcement of existing laws and regulations; education and training programs to support responsible firearm ownership; and mental health support and initiatives.

Some ideas from the community included a school resource officer program, mental health awareness campaigns in the community and in schools, a ban on assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons, required background checks and an ordinance requiring firearm locks and responsible storage.

In April, activists asked the council to adopt a resolution to “Save Lives through Gun Safety,” which jump started the public engagement process. At their last meeting, council members said they wanted to continue to hear from residents and community groups on all sides of the debate.

“We’ve gone through this process and we’ve really drawn out input from the community and now we’re at a point where we’re suggesting actions,” said council member Jon Pascal. “I don’t want to just take action right away. I would rather also hear back from the community on what they think of these actions, now that they’re on the table.”

Groups outside of Kirkland have taken action on some of the suggested items. King County council members recently pushed a legislative package of gun control measures that emphasize safe storage and informed firearm sales, and the Alliance for Gun Responsibility gathered enough signatures to put a measure to enhance background checks and raise the legal age to buy semi-automatic weapons to 21 (Initiative 1639) on the November ballot.

Some items can be done locally, many in cooperation with the school district, though others may be blocked by the state’s preemption statute. It asserts that the state “fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation” including the registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition and transfer of guns.

Local governments can enact only regulations specifically authorized by state law, which “are narrowly limited to the unsafe discharge of firearms, the possession of firearms in a stadium or convention center, and the proximity of gun sales establishments to schools,” according to the Kirkland City Council’s July 17 agenda bill.

Council did hear about how some of the community’s ideas could be addressed with the upcoming public safety ballot measure. After the elements of the measure are finalized on Aug. 6, it will go to voters for the Nov. 6 general election.

The proposal — which would raise the sales tax 0.1 percent, generating about $1.8 million per year — would fund enhanced police services and firearm safety investments in Kirkland. These would include five additional police officers, focused on illegal drugs, car prowls, burglaries, mail theft and shoplifting, along with four additional full-time school resource officers in the middle schools and one full-time mental health professional to help address 911 calls with mental health complications.

It would also provide annual funding to expand mental health and human services programs focusing on domestic violence and suicide prevention, new funding for gun safety training and subsidies for safe gun storage and funds to expand existing programs aimed at reducing homelessness.

According to a survey commissioned by the city, about 75 percent of residents at least somewhat support the proposed mix of community safety investments.

Mayor Amy Walen said she appreciated the emphasis on mental health and thanked the staff for their outreach work. They used many different platforms to get public input, including social media, focus groups, KirklandTalks dialogues and a town hall meeting attended by more than 200 people.

“I feel very proud tonight to be part of this government and this community,” Walen said. “It really resonates with me, the whole idea of being a just and compassionate city and a decisive and responsive government.”

See www.kirklandwa.gov for more.

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