Gun-rights supporters rally on the steps of the Washington Capitol in Olympia on Jan. 17. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

Gun-rights supporters rally on the steps of the Washington Capitol in Olympia on Jan. 17. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

Push for new gun laws triggers passion at Senate hearing

Today, a House panel tackles assault weapons ban and allowing cities to enact firearm restrictions.

OLYMPIA — Ira Moser of Snohomish and some friends are coming to the state Capitol a lot lately to talk about one subject: guns.

They’re gun owners. They’re concerned lawmakers may impose new restrictions on them and their firearms.

So they showed up Monday for a two-hour Senate committee hearing on bills limiting the capacity of gun magazines, requiring training for those with concealed weapon licenses, and imposing longer sentences for the use of stolen firearms.

Moser said he’ll return Tuesday morning when a House panel considers proposals to ban assault weapons, require background checks on ammunition purchases, and to erase a state pre-emption on local gun control laws. The Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee meeting is at 10 a.m.

“We’re guys that just shoot together and we’re motivated to keep our rights,” he explained.

Jane Weiss of Snohomish is traveling to Olympia as often. She’s come to press lawmakers to limit the capacity of magazines, a move she considers a common-sense step.

Her motivation is her niece, Veronika Weiss, who was slain in 2014 in a mass shooting in Isla Vista, California. The shooter used a pistol with a magazine capacity of 15 rounds. Proposed legislation would set a 10-round maximum.

“I am using my voice because she doesn’t have one,” Weiss said Monday.

These two days of hearings are opening arguments in a conversation expected to last the entire 60-day session.

In recent years, Washington voters stepped in when lawmakers did not act and passed some of the nation’s strictest rules around firearms.

They’ve approved universal background checks, raised the age for the purchase of semi-automatic weapons and established the use of extreme risk protection orders allowing for removal of firearms from those perceived to be a danger to themselves or others.

The Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the force behind the different initiatives, has another long agenda of changes it’d like to see. The roster includes limiting the capacity of magazines, requiring safety training for people seeking to obtain or renew concealed weapons permits, and regulating access to ammunition.

“We know ending gun violence in our community is a multi-year effort. We know the bills will save lives,” alliance CEO Renee Hopkins said at a post-hearing press conference Monday.

As to whether the alliance will pursue another ballot measure if lawmakers do not act, she deferred.

“We are confident our legislators are going to work as hard as they can,” she said.

On Monday, the Senate Law and Justice Committee took testimony on five bills, the most controversial of which limits the number of rounds in a firearm’s magazine.

Senate Bill 6077 would make it illegal for a person to make, possess or sell a large capacity magazine which is defined as an ammunition feeding device with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.

Opponents said imposing this cap would not deter criminals but severely hamper the ability of law-abiding citizens, including women and those with disabilities, to protect themselves if attacked.

Jane Milhans of Tacoma, a certified firearms instructor, told lawmakers she survived a home invasion.

“It’s a woman’s right to own a firearm to level the playing field,” she said. “This bill puts women at risk of being defenseless. I want the ability to protect myself.”

Shawn Yanity, chairman of the Stillaguamish Tribe, testified that it would infringe on a person’s constitutional right to keep and bear the arms of their choice.

“It isn’t big government’s job to dictate to its citizenry, especially in Indian Country, how it protects itself,” he said.

Supporters countered that fewer bullets would by definition reduce the potential for mass casualties.

Talk of leveling the fight “is really about talking about escalating the violence,” testified Snohomish County prosecutor Adam Cornell. “Outlawing high capacity magazines will save lives and will lower the level of the fight.”

Matt Vadnal, a retired Snohomish County deputy prosecutor said, “Opponents of this bill argue that it is a measure designed to disarm Washington residents, violating 2nd Amendment rights. This is the so-called slippery slope. Today, the slippery slope is the ground covered with the blood of people gunned down by firearms equipped with high capacity magazines.”

Also Monday, the committee heard two bills dealing with safety training for tens of thousands residents who have licenses to carry concealed weapons.

Senate Bill 6294 would require a person to have received at least eight hours of instruction in a recognized firearm safety program within the last five years before they could obtain or renew a concealed pistol license. Twenty-seven states require applicants demonstrate knowledge of firearm use and safety or both, according to a staff report.

“We are an outlier. We can and should do better,” said Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, the bill’s sponsor and a committee member. He had a similar version last year that did not receive a vote in the Senate.

Senate Bill 6347 takes a different approach. Licenses are currently good for five years. The proposed legislation would make them valid for seven years if the holder shows they’ve completed a firearm safety training program in the last five years. There is no minimum hours of instruction.

Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, said the bill, which he wrote, provides an incentive to get training. He said he did not believe forcing people to do a training program “is constitutional or the right thing to do.”

“It’s time we did something for gun owners who’ve shown they are responsible,” he said.

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

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