By Martha Bellisle / Associated Press
SEATTLE — When lawmakers return to Olympia on Monday for the 2020 legislative session, they’ll take up a list of bills that aim to prevent gun violence, ranging from bans on certain types of weapons to an increase in training and background checks.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson proposed a package of legislation last month “to combat mass shootings in Washington state.” For the first time, Gov. Jay Inslee joined Ferguson in calling for a ban on assault weapons and limits on high-capacity magazines.
Ferguson also wants the state to require background checks for people buying ammunition.
“In 2019, we saw more mass killings than any year on record, many using high-capacity magazines and assault weapons,” Ferguson told The Associated Press. “We continue to see growing evidence that restricting access to high-capacity magazines and assault weapons will save lives.”
Dave Workman, a spokesman for the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, said gun-rights groups will be out in force to challenge any measures that try to infringe on the right to bear arms.
“There’s a tendency to demonize the gun and the person who owns it instead of the bad guy who commits a crime,” Workman said.
Kristen Ellingboe, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for gun Responsibility, said she’s hopeful lawmakers will support bills that have failed in the past. Washington state has a history of passing most gun-violence prevention measures through the initiative process after they died in the Legislature.
But things are different now, she said.
“In 2018, Washingtonians elected the first true gun responsibility majority in Olympia and we saw the difference that made last session when the legislature passed 10 gun violence prevention measures,” she said. “That’s evidence that our elected officials are finally catching up to the people of Washington state on this issue.”
The country saw a renewed push to ban high-capacity magazines after a man opened fire in Dayton, Ohio in August, killing nine people and injuring 27 others in only 30 seconds, in part because of the 100-bullet drum attached to his rifle.
By last fall, nine states had passed laws restricting magazines to 10 to 15 bullets. Similar restrictions are being considered on the federal level.
Ferguson and Inslee want to limit magazines to 10 rounds in Washington state. The bill makes exceptions for law enforcement, military and recreational shooting ranges.
They also want to ban the sale of “assault weapons,” which are defined as semi-automatic guns that contain at least one military-style feature. The measure allows for the possession of grandfathered weapons that were purchased before the effective date of the bill.
Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, will be the main sponsor of the bill in the Senate, and Rep. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle, will carry the measure in the House.
“On banning the sale of assault weapons, I’ll be candid: It’s going to be a challenge,” Ferguson said. “We’ve seen that the people are ahead of the politicians on this. I’ll keep fighting for it, because it’s the right thing to do.”
Workman said one problem with a ban on assault weapons is the definition of the gun.
Washington passed Initiative 1639 in 2018. The measure made it illegal for anyone under 21 years of age to buy a semi-automatic assault rifle. It defined these weapons as any rifle that reloads after firing a round when the trigger is pulled, as opposed to a gun that requires the person to open and close a bolt to reload.
Workman said that definition covers every semi-automatic rifle that’s ever been manufactured.
“You press the trigger, the action cycles, slides a new round into the chamber and you’re ready to go bang again,” he said. “It applies to millions of guns.”
Backers of the initiative appeared to be targeting guns that look like military weapons, he said, but instead they swept in most guns out there.
“They function like grandpa’s old shotgun,” he said. Any new legislation involving assault weapons will be impacted by what Workman said was a flawed definition.
The final piece of legislation being pushed by Ferguson would strengthen rules on ammunition sales.
Louisiana, Nevada and Texas don’t allow violent offenders to buy ammunition and 14 states prohibit the possession of ammunition by people who are prohibited from owning guns, Ferguson said.
He wants to bring Washington in line with those states and require background checks for ammo sales to be sure that felons and other prohibited people can’t buy bullets.
The Alliance for Gun Responsibility also has a legislative wish list. It includes Ferguson’s bills and a few others.
Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia require safety training for people who want a concealed pistol license. Washington does not require a person to complete a safety course or demonstrate a proficiency with a gun to get a concealed-carry permit.
The group is proposing a measure that would add training to “ensure people carrying concealed weapons know how to safely handle them,” the alliance said in a statement.
They also are bringing back a bill that would allow the State Patrol to destroy confiscated crime guns rather than selling them back to the public.
Washington state allows law enforcement agencies to decide whether to destroy, sell or trade crime-scene firearms. The law is stricter for the State Patrol, which is required to auction off or trade most such guns.
An Associated Press investigation found of the nearly 6,000 firearms used in crimes and then sold by Washington law enforcement agencies since 2010, more than a dozen later became evidence in new investigations.
One of the guns sold by the State Patrol was used by a veteran to commit suicide, the AP found.
Following the AP report, Spokane and King County officials passed measures prohibiting they local law enforcement agencies to sell crime guns. The State Patrol has been seeking this relief for years.