By Cameron Sheppard | WNPA News Service | Feb. 20, 2020.
- Bill sponsor says better data collection would help prevent gun violence
- Opponents say the legislation could create anti-gun bureaucratic office
The Washington Legislature is closer to creating an Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention to collect data on gun violence and suicide following a 25-23 vote in favor of Senate Bill 6288.
The office created by this legislation would be tasked with identifying new ways to collect gun violence data, analyzing and sharing that data, as well as making policy recommendations based on the data collected. The office would work with law enforcement agencies, county prosecutors, researchers, and public health agencies across the state.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said the legislation is intended to bring a research-driven and data-based approach to recognizing the impacts of gun violence and suicide.
Dhingra said the legislation is about transforming the state’s criminal justice system from a crisis response model to an early prevention and intervention model. She said programs such as King County’s Shots Fired project save taxpayers money because it helps to prevent deaths, injuries and incarcerations that burden our societal systems.
“This bill is about understanding where violence occurs in our communities and how we can intervene to address it—and making sure that we are helping victims of violence,” Dhingra said.
Adrian Diaz, Assistant Chief of Collaborative Policing in Seattle, testified to the Senate Law and Justice Committee in support of the bill. Diaz said the legislation would help fill gaps in gun violence data and develop policy solutions to improve community safety.
The bill would also create the Washington Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program, which would be managed by the office. Through the program, grants will be awarded to gun violence prevention initiatives and organizations in disproportionately affected communities in King County.
“Through my violence prevention work in Seattle, I have seen how effective holistic and community-based programs can be in reducing violence,” Diaz said in support of the grant program. “Research on similar programs in cities like Oakland, Milwaukee and New York has found the same to be true.”
Republican senators have raised some issues with the legislation.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he is concerned the Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention could end up being an advocacy group used to push gun regulations and take away gun rights.
“It just bothers me to have another bureaucracy and more tax dollars going to promote a particular viewpoint,” Padden said.
Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said she is concerned that data collected for a database could be misused or targeted.
The bill will now have to pass in the House before it has the chance to be signed into law. Public hearing is scheduled in the House Committee on Civil Rights & Judiciary at 8:00 a.m. on February 28.