SEATTLE (AP) — Gun rights and gun control groups joined prosecutors and lawmakers Wednesday in demanding some tough love for kids who illegally carry firearms, saying teen gun violence is on the rise and current laws aren’t up to the task of dealing with it.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, Democratic state Sen. Adam Kline and Rep. Christopher Hurst announced legislation that would require an automatic 10 days in local juvenile detention for a first offense — rather than the current penalty of zero days in detention.
They said a second offense should automatically send kids to the state Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration for at least 15 weeks. As the law stands, it takes five convictions to earn that stay in a JRA facility.
“We’re simply not holding these kids long enough to teach them anything,” Satterberg told a news conference.
This is the fourth time in as many years Hurst and Kline have sponsored legislation to toughen penalties for juvenile gun possession, but the first time that both gun rights and gun control groups have been on board.
Representatives of Washington CeaseFire as well as the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms joined them at the announcement. Dave Workman, a spokesman for the gun rights group, noted the bill would have no effect on kids who lawfully possess guns for hunting or target shooting.
“The firearms community has never been opposed to cracking down on the right people,” Workman said.
Across the state, about 145 kids a year are convicted of second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm — and for 60 of them, it’s a second offense, punishable by up to a month in juvenile detention. In practice, many are given deferred sentences or home detention.
The proposed legislation would eliminate such alternative sentences and, supporters said, give the state a chance to impress the consequences of gun crime upon the young offenders.
Satterberg said he believes the cost would be less than $1 million a year, primarily in housing offenders at JRA facilities, and that could pose a hurdle in Olympia during tough budget times. But, he said, it could potentially offer great long-term savings. In King County, armed juvenile crimes that result in automatic prosecution as an adult have more than doubled since 2008.
He pointed to the case of Carlos Bernardez, who was convicted of unlawfully carrying a firearm in 2007. He was given a deferred six-month sentence and 40 hours of community service, which he never performed.
The next year, the 17-year-old fired into a crowd at the Chop Suey nightclub in Seattle, killing one and wounding two others. He received 30 years in prison.
If such cases can be prevented, the legislation will be well worth it, Satterberg said.