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Families ask for notification before police return guns

by caprecord

Kristen Otoupalik says the last thing she said to her friend Sheena Henderson on the morning she was killed was to check whether her husband’s Chris’ gun was still under lock and key at the Spokane Police Department.

Sheena Henderson. (Sheena Henderson Memorial Page)

Chris Henderson had been released after being hospitalized briefly for making suicidal threats following months of mental decline, and the police had confiscated his firearm. But Sheena Henderson didn’t know that police had returned it the day before her husband shot and killed her and then himself.

“If she would have known, she could have been empowered,” Otoupalik told the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Monday. “She could have protected herself in some way.”

The Senate Law and Justice Committee heard Senate Bill 5381, The Sheena Henderson Act, which would create a process for law enforcement agencies to notify families before returning firearms to people from whom the guns were confiscated.

Under the bill, family members could ask the law enforcement agency to be notified before the gun is returned. The bill also calls for the law enforcement to continue to hold the confiscated firearms until 72 hours after the family members receive the notification.

The Sheena Henderson Act is one of two bills that Henderson’s friends and family are lobbying for this session. They also have testified on House Bill 1448, called the Sheena and Chris Henderson Law, which would allow police to refer a person who is suicidal to a designated mental health professional, and would require the mental health professional to follow up within 48 hours.

James McMahan, representing the Washington Association of Sheriff’s and Police Chiefs, said the group is in support of SB 5381, but would like the state to create on an automated system that law enforcement can use to inform families.

Several organizations were concerned about the specific language of the bill.

Phil Watson, of the Second Amendment Foundation, is opposed to the bill, though he said he could support it if some changes were made. He worries the information, which would be a public record under the bill, could be used against gun owners.

“It will be used to go after gun owners in the public eye, embarrass gun owners and represent them in a negative way,” he said.

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