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WA Lege: Assault weapon ban in bull’s eye

OLYMPIA -- A proposal to ban certain semi-automatic firearms was praised by the mother of a shooting victim and a city police chief, but roundly panned by gun-rights activists.

The proposal, SB 6396, which would ban weapons commonly called "military style assault weapons" once covered by federal law, generated references to a Halloween slaying of a Seattle police officer and the 1994 shooting spree at Fairchild Air Force Base. It also prompted a debate between a state senator and a police chief over the definition of lethal.

The Puget Sound region saw six officers killed in the last two months of 2009, including Officer Tim Brenton, who was killed with a weapon that would be covered by the bill. Banning assault weapons with clips that fire more than 10 rounds is a way to protect police officers, Bellevue Police Chief Linda Pillo said.

"Which guns are lethal and which are not?" asked Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn.

Guns that fire multiple rounds quickly are more lethal, Pillo said.About a fifth of all officers killed in the line of duty between 1998 and 2001 were killed by assault weapons, she said, and 10 officers in Los Angeles were wounded in a single bank robbery by the weapons.

"How many rounds does it take to kill a person or a deer?" asked Roach.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Judiciary Committee that was hearing it, said the bill includes descriptions of features on firearms such as pistol grips on rifles and barrel shrouds that make a gun "more lethal than your average deer rifle." That prompted laughter in the hearing room which,

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based on a show of  hands requested by Roach, was overwhelmingly opposed to the bill. Kline suggested that if opponents had problems with the language, they could suggest their own.

But Brian Judy, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association in Washington, said no language improvements could be suggested byecaus the bill was "unconstitutionally arbitrary"  and a ban would have to cover all semi-automatics or none.

"You can't carve out some," Judy said. "Pistol grips have nothing to do with lethality."

Kline disagreed, saying a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling said that states could set reasonable limits on firearms. Reasonable limits, replied Judy, are already exist that ban firearms possession by felons and people with mental problems.

Debra Sullivan of Seattle, whose 17-year-old son Aaron was killed last summer by another teen firing a semi-automatic weapon, said the state currently protects children from alcohol, drugs and tobacco, and limits when they can drive and vote. "I'd love to see us take som action to protect our young people from assault weapons."

Action on the bill was delayed until a later hearing. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said previously she doesn't think there's enough support to pass the bill this session.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.