Editorial: Ban sale of high-capacity firearm magazines

It wasn’t included in legislative proposals by a state work group, but lawmakers should discuss it.

By The Herald Editorial Board

A recommendation that state Attorney General Bob Ferguson wanted included in a report and proposals to state lawmakers regarding mass shootings — with a particular emphasis on school safety — was left out of the final report submitted last week.

The state’s top legal authority made his disappointment clear in a two-page minority report over the Mass Shootings Work Group’s failure “to include common sense, evidence-based firearms safety reforms,” as reported Monday by The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield.

But Ferguson’s proposal — seeking a ban on the sale of firearm magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds of ammunition — even without the endorsement of the work group, is familiar to state lawmakers and deserves the Legislature’s attention.

The group — which included 13 representatives from law enforcement, the offices of the attorney general and superintendent of public instruction, higher education, the ACLU, crime victim advocates and behavioral health experts — settled on 25 recommendations that should direct lawmakers work in developing bills and funding requests.

Among them, the report recommends that public schools, colleges and universities develop a process for assessing threats to student safety, where educators, mental health processionals and law enforcement would look to identify students at risk for harming themselves or others. The report also advises more resources for school counselors and mental health professionals to increase access to mental health services. A third recommendation would provide more funding for school resource officers from local law enforcement agencies.

Ferguson, in his addendum, supports the recommendations included in the report, but faulted the omission of the high-capacity magazine ban.

The proposal was discussed, Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and a work group participant, told The Herald, but the group’s mission was focused on prevention of mass shootings, rather than firearms issues.

That was a focus too narrow for Ferguson who noted in his dissent that “high-capacity magazines make dangerous individuals more dangerous.”

It’s hard to argue that firearm safety recommendations shouldn’t be part of the discussion regarding school safety, but the case can be made that high-profile proposals such as a magazine ban might have distracted attention from other deserving recommendations.

Whether part of the work group’s report and recommendations, however, the proposal to ban the sale of magazines of more than 10 rounds should see a full discussion during the coming legislative session. And Ferguson, as he did earlier this year, will repeat the proposal among his requests to the Legislature.

High-capacity magazines are what have made many of mass shootings in recent years so deadly, including 58 killed and more than 500 wounded in Las Vegas in 2017; 49 killed in Orlando, Florida in 2016; and 28 killed in Sandy Hook in 2012.

Magazines holding 30 rounds were used in the shooting deaths of three young adults in Mukilteo in July 2016 and in the shooting deaths of five people at the Cascade Mall in Burlington, two months later.

In contrast, Ferguson’s office noted in this year’s request, in the 2014 shooting at Seattle Pacific University, the shooter, armed with a shotgun took one life — one life too many — but was prevented from injuring or killing any others because a bystander was able to subdue the shooter as he went to reload.

Legislation in House and Senate, with more than 30 lawmakers sponsoring, got hearings this year but neither advanced. During this year’s session, lawmakers also failed to pass bills that would have increased the age to purchase semi-automatic rifles to 21 from 18 and to require safe storage of firearms in homes were children and others barred access are present.

Instead, the state’s voters passed Initiative 1639 — which included both provisions among others — with nearly 60 percent approval.

Lawmakers, in addition to full consideration of the Mass Shooting Work Group’s recommendations, should also keep the results of I-1639 in mind as they consider a ban on high-capacity magazines.

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