OLYMPIA – Family and friends of a woman killed by her husband at a Spokane hospital last July tried to make it clear Monday they are not anti-gun. They are pro-warning.
Although a gun-rights group questioned whether Sheena Henderson’s law would infringe on the Second Amendment, her father Gary Kennison said the proposal has nothing to do with taking guns away from people. Instead, it’s about letting family members know when a person who may be suffering from mental health issues or was accused of domestic violence gets their guns back from police custody.
Sheena Henderson was killed by her husband, Christopher Henderson, last July. Christopher had been evaluated by law enforcement as a potential suicide risk less than 24 hours earlier, but after he had been cleared by Spokane Valley officers, he retrieved a gun from the Spokane Police Department that had been seized during an earlier suicide attempt; he went to Deaconess where Sheena worked, fatally shot her, then killed himself.
The family assumed the gun was still in police custody, said Kennison, who was at the Spokane County Courthouse trying to get a restraining order that would have kept Christopher away from Sheena and allowed Deaconess to bar him from the area where she worked. “Had I been notified that his gun had been retrieved, she would have been standing beside me at the courthouse.”
The proposed law would set up a three-day waiting period for the return of a gun seized under certain circumstances, and family notification that the return has been requested.
Phil Watson of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, objected to the waiting period because the person hasn’t been charged with a crime or been committed for mental health reasons. The real issue is the “deplorable condition” of the mental health system, he said, and any notification to family members should be exempt from public records releases.
“It will be used as a means to go after gun owners in the public eye and embarrass gun owners and present them in a negative way,” Watson said.
Brian Judy, the state liaison for the National Rifle Association, said his organization wouldn’t oppose notifying family members when a gun is returned, and is trying to work on the details with Henderson’s family and friends. It should be confidential, and law enforcement shouldn’t have immunity for revealing it to the public, he said.
The proposed Sheena Henderson law was the first of several bills about firearms considered by the Senate Law and Justice Committee. It was the only one not aimed at amending I-594, the background-check law voters approved last fall, to allow more exemptions from the checks for law enforcement officers, members of the military or security guards.
Supporters of those bills said they don’t go far enough, and some said the Legislature should repeal the entire law. But Rebecca Johnson of the Washington Alliance for Gun Safety said the bills aren’t needed because there’s no evidence the law is causing problems and some “transfers” they mention aren’t illegal.
That prompted Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, to ask Johnson why not pass the exemptions and “just make life easier.” Johnson replied the issue is part of a lawsuit, so the Legislature should wait.
Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, urged supporters and sponsors to refine language before next Thursday, a deadline for getting bills out of their first committee. He said later he thought proposed changes to I-594 had committee support to move to the full Senate, but getting the needed two-thirds vote in both chambers to change a new initiative would be a challenge.
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