Lawmakers work on the Senate floor Wednesday at the Capitol in Olympia. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Lawmakers work on the Senate floor Wednesday at the Capitol in Olympia. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

High-capacity gun bill foiled by last-minute GOP tactics

Lawmakers ran out of time to debate and vote on 120 amendments, most of which were single word changes.

OLYMPIA — Lawmakers won’t be outlawing high capacity gun magazines in Washington this session after a bill to ban them failed to advance in the House or Senate by a critical deadline.

In the House, the Democrat-led effort wilted under the weight of 120 Republican amendments. In the Senate, legislation never made it to the floor as Democratic leaders anticipated Republicans would try to derail it in a similar fashion.

A bill needed to clear one of the chambers by 5 p.m. Wednesday to remain in play in the final three weeks of the session. Now, barring some unforeseen legislating maneuver, it’s done.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Paul Kramer of Mukilteo, who traveled to Olympia in January to voice support for a prohibition. “I certainly would have hoped that they could have taken further action on this. It clearly is in the best interest of the people of the state of Washington to ban these high capacity magazines that are used so often in mass shootings.”

Kramer’s son was 19 when he was shot in the back at a Mukilteo house party in 2016 and spent 17 days in the hospital. Three of his friends were killed. Since then, Paul Kramer has worked to pass gun safety legislation.

Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell also made the trek this year to testify in favor of a ban. He prosecuted the shooter in that case.

“I think it’s a failure,” he said. “I think it was an opportunity for our legislators to make our community safer and they dropped the ball.”

Of the swarm of Republican amendments, he said, “It’s confounding to me that they just didn’t decide it on the merits.”

The legislation — House Bill 2240 and Senate Bill 6077 — sought to outlaw buying, selling, making, or possessing a large capacity magazine defined as holding 15 rounds in the House bill and 10 rounds in the Senate version.

Early in the week, HB 2240 appeared on course for a vote before the Wednesday cutoff. Then came the cascade of amendments, a majority from Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, who later celebrated the legislative triumph on Facebook.

Young posted a picture of himself in the chamber with the statement: “How do you stop a bad bill while in the minority? Hundreds of good amendments and the willingness to fight.” Accompanying the photo, he wrote, “It’s official, HB 2240 is now defeated! We did it!”

Thursday morning, House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, told reporters it was “frustrating to see the number of amendments especially when a large number of them were just changing one word or another.”

She explained there wasn’t time to debate and vote on each one before acting on the bill. House rules guaranteed members could speak up to 10 minutes on each one, and again at final passage. Doing the math, she said it could have led to debating 24 hours a day for two weeks.

“No one can actually remember a time we worked through 120 amendments,” she said.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, decried the GOP strategy.

House Republicans have repeatedly said the ability to debate bills is what they count on as the minority, he said.

“On this bill it’s clear they didn’t want the debate,” Sullivan said. “Their goal was killing the bill without having that debate.”

And the leader of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility condemned Republicans with much stronger language.

“A group of representatives, beholden to the gun lobby, are publicly gloating about how they killed this lifesaving bill — not with open dialogue about policy, but with hundreds of duplicative, obstructionist amendments. That is unconscionable,” said Renee Hopkins, the group’s chief executive officer.

In response to critics, House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said if leaders of the majority party “want a bill” they know how to knock off amendments quickly and run it.

“I think they were happy to blame somebody else for not bringing up that bill,” Wilcox said.

Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson backed the legislation. The governor vented his frustration Thursday.

“Washingtonians can rightfully be disappointed that the Legislature has failed to act on gun safety legislation,” he told reporters.

In recent years, when lawmakers failed to act, voters enacted firearm-related rules and restrictions via initiative. They’ve included universal background checks, extreme risk protection orders and raising the age to buy a military-style assault rifle.

If backers go that route again, Inslee said he would be “fully supportive” though he said there’s no reason lawmakers cannot do it themselves.

The Alliance, which has led those successful initiative efforts, prefers the legislative path as well.

“From our perspective at this point, an initiative would be letting our elected officials off the hook,” said communications manager Kristen Ellingboe. “They are all going to have to run on their records from this session, not on their support for an initiative doing what they can and should do themselves.”

Meanwhile, late Thursday, Democrats introduced a new bill to ban high capacity magazines. This version is intentionally crafted to deter amendments. With only 20 days left in the session, it’s not clear if majority party leaders will try to push it through.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos

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