Tacoma mulling no-questions-asked surrender of firearms

Tacoma Councilwoman Victoria Woodards said Tuesday she wants to allow people to anonymously surrender weapons to the police, no questions asked. Such a program would get guns off of the streets and could prevent another murder, she said.

The city is considering including a gun surrender initiative in its new gun safety program, city staff told the City Council Tuesday during a noon meeting.

The news delighted Woodards.

“I am overwhelmed and almost speechless that you have gotten there as an opportunity to turn in guns with no repercussions,” Councilwoman Victoria Woodards said, directing her comments to Police Chief Don Ramsdell who was in the audience. “We may find a gun that’s been involved in a homicide and not know where it came from.”

What’s important, Woodards said, is getting a gun off the street before it is involved in another murder.

But Police Chief Don Ramsdell said after the meeting that Tacoma will not grant amnesty to allow criminals to turn in guns without consequences. He was skeptical that the city could develop a program for the anonymous surrender of weapons without sacrificing public safety. Ramsdell envisions the program as more intended for minors who have a gun or adults who acquire guns and no longer want them.

Woodards acknowledged there is inherent conflict in allowing residents to turn in some guns anonymously while allowing law enforcement to preserve evidence and potential witnesses.

“How we balance that with getting guns from crimes that have been committed, we have to figure that out,” Woodards said.

Councilman Marty Campbell said he has “a little bit of heartburn over the anonymous surrender,” but he also wants to see a safe venue to allow those who do not want guns to surrender them. Maybe a felon fresh out of prison bought a gun for safety, but now he’s turned his life around.

“Now he has a good job and someone he wants to marry, but what does he do with this weapon? How does he get out of this decision without getting arrested?” Campbell said.

The city is not planning a gun-buyback program, as other cities have done. How the safe surrender program will work has yet to be ironed out.

“There needs to be really clear direction on how to surrender (a gun),” Campbell said. “I don’t want people to carry a firearm into the (police) substation.”

Assistant City Manager Tansy Hayward said residents can already surrender firearms to the police by calling the non-emergency line, 253-798-4721. Police will call the person back and make arrangements to pick up the weapon for later destruction.

The city’s gun safety campaign is part of its gang reduction project. In addition to promoting the surrender of unwanted guns, the city plans to focus on safe storage of firearms and gun safety education.

Hayward said the initiative – prompted in part by the October accidental shooting death of Jalon Bea, a 17-year-old Tacoma boy – will be targeted at youths in the community.

The program will encourage children to take a gun safety pledge and instruct them in steps to take when they see a gun. “Stop, don’t touch it, leave the area and tell an adult,” said Melissa Cordeiro, gang reduction project coordinator.

The program also could partner with an area gun range and a gun shop, which might offer discounted gun safes, Cordeiro said.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland encouraged staff to explore joining forces with the YWCA or health department, noting that guns are sometimes involved in domestic violence crimes.

“Are we treating this as a public health issue as much as a crime issue?” Strickland asked.