Teens with illegal guns get off easy

Feb 1, 2011

A teenager caught with an illegal gun in Washington gets little more than a slap on the wrist.  That’s the complaint of prosecutors who are trying to stiffen the penalty.

It’s something that has frustrated King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg for awhile.  He told Washington lawmakers during a hearing on Senate Bill 5313 that a teenager has to be caught with a gun five times before anything serious happens to him, like being locked up in a youth rehabilitation facility.

"That is so contrary to all of our common sense.  I’m not talking about kids who are going pheasant hunting after school in Eastern Washington. The kids I’m talking about are hunting each other, " Satterberg said.

Satterberg described a recent case in his office.  A 17-year old was charged with illegal possession of a firearm.   In the previous 14 months he'd been convicted three times of carrying a semi-automatic pistol in his pants pocket and had a pending drug charge.  Still, he hadn't spent more than 3 months in detention.

The legislation would increase the penalty for juvenile firearm possession so that teens that violate the law would face time behind bars in a reform facility. 

Bob Cooper who speaks for public defenders argued against the proposal saying it's "too cookie cutter" and doesn't give judges enough flexibility.