OLYMPIA – In an effort to find some good in a tragedy, the Legislature is poised to pass a law that could prevent another event like the murder-suicide of Sheena Henderson and her husband, Christopher, at a Spokane hospital last summer.
The House unanimously approved a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to notify worried family members before returning firearms seized from a person involved in domestic violence or other criminal activities, or from someone being examined for mental illness. Because of a minor change, it is headed back to the Senate, which already gave it unanimous approval.
The bill has support from gun-rights and gun-control advocates. Passage is expected before the session ends later this month.
It may only affect a couple of dozen people a year, said Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, but for them it could be life-saving.
The bill closes a gap in state law that was highlighted by the two deaths last year, said Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane.
Christopher Henderson was evaluated as a potential suicide threat last July but was eventually cleared and released by Spokane Valley officers. Less than 24 hours later, he retrieved his guns from the Spokane Police Department, which had seized his guns during an earlier suicide attempt. He went to Deaconess Hospital, where Sheena Henderson worked, fatally shot her and then killed himself.
Sheena Henderson’s family said they knew Christopher Henderson had been released but felt she was safe at work because they assumed he didn’t have his gun. Police had no requirement to notify anyone before returning the guns.
“This is one of these tragedies where something good may come out of it,” said Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane.
Under the bill, a person seeking return of weapons police have seized wouldn’t get them back immediately if a family member had filed a request to be notified first. The agency must hold the gun for 72 hours after the notification is made.
The House agreed to an amendment from Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, to make clear the notification and waiting period doesn’t apply to firearms under temporary holds from routine traffic stops.
Billig and others credited the proposal’s success to the work of Sheena Henderson’s father, Gary Kennison, and her longtime friend Kristen Otoupalik, who made several trips to Olympia to testify for the bill and tell the Hendersons’ story.
The bill is not about gun control or gun seizure, but about notification and gun return, he said.
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