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Fri., Jan. 29, 2010

Editorial: Gun-ban bill takes too scattershot an approach

Last November, a man with a handgun executed four Lakewood, Wash., police officers in a coffee shop. Nearly a month later, a man with a handgun and rifle ambushed two Pierce County sheriffs, killing one of them. Proponents of a state law to ban certain “military style” semiautomatic weapons invoked those shootings, but the weapons used would remain legal.

The legislation is named for Aaron Sullivan, a teenager who was slain by another teen using a semiautomatic weapon. But as the recent assaults against officers show, all kinds of weapons are lethal and it doesn’t make sense to target some of them with arbitrary guidelines. Under the bill, semiautomatic weapons that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition would be banned. Those holding fewer would not be. Those with pistol grips or other accessories would be banned, but those add-ons don’t make the weapons more deadly.

In support of the bill, Ralph Fascitelli of Washington Ceasefire said that any weapon designed to kill humans is an assault weapon. But the bill excludes many weapons that fit that definition, namely handguns. The bill isn’t that expansive, but Fascitelli inadvertently highlights a problem with arbitrary bans. All guns are lethal, but in trying to avoid all-out bans that would never be adopted, lawmakers come up with subjective definitions of “assault” and “military-style” that play on emotions but don’t reduce gun crime.

The federal government imposed an assault weapon ban that expired in 2004. To get around it, manufacturers merely changed the appearance of the weapons to make them legal. They remained as lethal as ever.

Two Justice Department studies failed to find a definitive connection between the weapons ban and a reduction in murders. Even before the ban, handguns were the weapon of choice. They remain so today.

If this bill were to pass, a wide array of weapons – some semiautomatic – would remain legal.

Those who already owned the newly criminalized weapons could keep them, but they would have to submit to a law enforcement inspection to ensure proper storage. That’s not a workable plan.

This is a well-meaning bill that springs from emotional events, but the scattershot approach shows that the proponents have not thought it through very well.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

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