Bill requiring safe gun storage fails to advance

OLYMPIA — There may not be any more emotionally explosive debates on guns this session after a bill requiring safe storage of firearms failed to advance out of the House.

It is the fifth straight session that Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle, pushed legislation to make it a crime if someone stores a gun in a place where it is found by a child and used to cause injury or death.

The bill needed to pass out the House by a Wednesday deadline but didn’t.

It did advance further than other more expansive attempts to regulate guns. A proposal to ban the sale of assault weapons pushed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson did not get a hearing. And a bill to increase licensing and background check requirements for buyers of semiautomatic military-style weapons and large-capacity magazines had a hearing but nothing else.

For Kagi, the outcome was disappointing though not surprising. She knew well before the cut-off the votes weren’t there for passage of her bill.

But she said getting the measure through the House Judiciary Committee for the first time and thus in position for a vote by the entire House was a “huge step forward.”

“It’s further progress. We have more public understanding about firearm safety and storage of your guns,” she said. “We’ll keep working on it.”

Opposition within the Democratic Caucus continues to be the first hurdle.

Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, opposed Kagi’s bill, saying it went too far by allowing law enforcement to go into homes to inspect how guns are stored.

“This issue has a long history,” he said. “Had they drafted the bill more broadly about all the dangerous things a child has access to in a home they might have had more success.”

David Workman, of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said the bill’s repeated lack of success may be a sign “that it is not an idea that is going to get traction in the Washington State Legislature.

“Maybe this is the line where people look at a piece of legislation and say, ‘Wait a minute, if we start dictating what we get away with in people’s homes, what’s next?’ ” he said.

Meanwhile, conversations on preventing gun violence are continuing as lawmakers pursue less-controversial means of keeping guns out of the hands of those who should not have them.

One example is House Bill 1501, which would require firearm dealers to notify the Washington State Patrol when they deny the sale of a gun to a person after a background check reveals that person is ineligible to possess a firearm under state or federal law.

Under the bill, the state patrol would keep track of the denials in a database, investigate cases and make referrals for prosecution. The House passed this bill 84-13 on March 3 and it is awaiting action in the Senate.

Organizations opposed to the firearms storage and assault weapon ban bills such as the National Rifle Association didn’t testify against the bill. Other groups, including the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, were in strong support.

Renee Hopkins, chief executive officer of the alliance, said she doesn’t consider legislative wins and losses as an accurate barometer of the changing climate on concern about gun violence.

Voter approval of initiatives for universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders has moved the conversation forward throughout Washington, she said.

“It is starting to translate to a different tenor around Olympia,” she said. “The work we need to do is not done. We’re building momentum into 2018.”

In the meantime, gun rights groups are pleased with what’s happened this year in the Legislature.

Philip Watson, legislative advocate for the Firearms Policy Coalition, issued a statement applauding lawmakers for “listening to common sense” and not imposing any new rules on law-abiding gun owners.

”With the failure of this (firearms storage) measure and the so-called Assault Weapons Ban, the civilian disarmament agenda is being stopped for now in Washington state,” he said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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