OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson has blasted members of a task force on preventing mass school shootings, for leaving out a restriction on the size of ammunition magazines in the final recommendations sent to lawmakers.
Ferguson wanted the work group to embrace a rewrite of state law to outlaw the sale of gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, with exemptions for law enforcement, military and recreational shooting.
On Nov. 7, the group compiled 25 recommendations encompassing school resource officers, counselors, student support services, student threat assessment processes, extreme risk protection orders and public education.
None involved firearms restrictions.
In a two-page minority report, Ferguson said he agreed with the recommendations but was “extremely disappointed that the group failed to include common sense, evidence-based firearms safety reforms that would make our schools and communities safer.
“High capacity magazines make dangerous individuals more dangerous,” he said. “In the likely event Washington state experiences another mass shooting made more violent due to a high-capacity magazine, the people of this state will ask why this group did not recommend a limit on high-capacity magazines.”
Ferguson’s dissent — which is part of the final report submitted Dec. 3 — caught the attention of those tapped by lawmakers to lead the eight-month effort of the work group.
“We were surprised by the aggressive tone,” said Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
“It did receive discussion,” he said. “I think one of the reasons the work group did not forward recommendations about magazine limits is because the mission was to focus on identification and prevention (of mass shootings) where I think (the magazine limit) is perceived as more of a mitigating factor.”
Lawmakers created the 13-person Mass Shootings Work Group in March through a proviso in the state supplemental budget.
It had representatives from city and county law enforcement, the Washington State Patrol, and the offices of the attorney general and the superintendent of public instruction. There also were representatives from two- and four-year colleges, the ACLU, the Washington Coalition of Crime Victims Advocates and Frontier Behavioral Health.
The budget proviso directed the group to “develop strategies for identification and intervention against potential perpetrators of mass shootings, with an emphasis on school safety.”
One recommendation urges lawmakers to require every public school, college and university employ a multi-stage threat assessment process. In such a process, educators in concert with mental health professionals and law enforcement officers are constantly seeking to identify and assist students at risk of harming themselves or others.
Other recommendations call on the state to provide more dollars to hire counselors, psychologists, mental health professionals, family engagement coordinators, school social workers and school resource officers.
The work group discussed and voted on proposed recommendations in its last meeting, Nov. 7. Of those adopted, all but one received unanimous support. Vanessa Torres Hernandez, youth policy director for ACLU, opposed an increase in state funding to hire more school resource officers.
Midway through the meeting, assistant attorney general Kate Kelly laid out four ideas put forth by her boss.
One sought to require buyers of semiautomatic rifles be at least 21 years old, and another sought to enact criminal sanctions for unsafe storage of weapons. Panel members, including Kelly, agreed to set those aside because they are elements of Initiative 1639, which voters approved in November.
A third item called for requiring a background check before anyone could transfer 3D-printed gun blueprints to a resident of Washington. It received no vocal support.
When Kelly brought up limiting the size of high-capacity gun magazines, she said they do “seem like an issue in mass shootings.”
But Kelly didn’t press hard for inclusion of the recommendation. Nor did she have clear answers to some questions posed by other members.
My Tran, director of public safety for Bellevue College, pointed out a July ruling by a federal appeals court that prevents California from enforcing its voter-approved ban on magazines with more than 10 rounds. He wondered about the value of recommending that Washington pursue the same kind of law in light of the legal situation.
Kelly said she was not aware of the case. She also noted that the attorney general will push in 2019 for legislation to limit magazines as he did in the last legislative session.
Pasco Police Sgt. Bill Parramore, who also had questions about the proposal in that meeting, said last week that he wasn’t surprised by the tone in the minority report.
“I took it as an opportunity for the attorney general to attach his agenda to what we were doing,” he said.
Like Ferguson, Hernandez filed a minority report elaborating on the group’s opposition to the recommendation for putting more police officers in public schools.
“There is a dearth of evidence that school police deter mass shootings,” she wrote. “Increasing police presence in schools can put students outcomes in jeopardy, especially when students are from historically marginalized communities. Students of color and students who have been victimized by violence report feeling less safe in schools with police officers.”
Lawmakers will consider the recommendations in the session that begins Jan. 14.