OLYMPIA – Gun control advocates may have their best chance in several years to pass firearms restrictions, starting with Senate committee hearings Monday on a series of bills that would limit certain types of firearms or devices that can make them fire more rounds faster.
But as they have for several sessions, gun rights activists vowed Friday to fight those and any other restrictions on what they believe are rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
A well-armed crowd of about 100 on the north steps of the domed Legislative Building shouted “Shame!” as a member of the Gun Rights Coalition called out the numbers of Senate bills and the names of their sponsors. Among the bills drawing their ire:
Senate Bill 5444, which calls for enhanced background checks and licenses for anyone buying a military-style semi-automatic rifle and large-capacity magazine.
Senate Bill 5463, which requires firearms to be kept in “safe storage” facilities in a home.
Senate Bill 5992, which would ban certain trigger modifications like “bump stocks,” a device used in the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
Senate Bill 6049, which would ban most magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
Senate Bill 6146, which would allow local governments to have stricter gun control laws than the state as a whole.
All are scheduled for a hearing Monday morning in front of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.
In recent years, that committee was chaired by Spokane Valley Republican Mike Padden, who refused to consider gun control bills unless they had first passed the House. But the Senate is controlled by Democrats this year, and new Chairman Jamie Pedersen of Seattle is a co-sponsor of the bills set for the hearing. Many also have the support of Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
“It’s going to be a big fight to keep those bills from going to the floor of the House and Senate,” Kerry French, of Enumclaw, told the crowd. “Get involved.”
Demonstrators were urged to stop by legislative offices after leaving the rally, but that advice may have had limited impact. It was Friday, with no formal floor session in either the House or Senate and only a few committee hearings. Many lawmakers already were headed home for the weekend.
Josh McIntyre, who came to the rally with his 3-year-old daughter, Love, and 1-year-old son, Lazarus, said he’s attended several demonstrations and may be back for Monday’s hearing.
“Every year, it seems like there’s a new bill on the table,” said McIntyre, an Olympia resident who carried a LaRue tactical rifle on his back. He believes he’d have to register and get a license for it if Senate Bill 5444 passed.
After more than an hour on the steps in worsening rain, Ben Garrison, Jake Garza and Ian Stobe walked inside the Legislative Building to look around. All three were carrying semi-automatic weapons that they said would be covered by Senate Bill 5444. They said they won’t be able to make it to Monday’s hearings because of school or work, but would follow the votes on the bills.
“This is a constant issue,” said Garrison, who was carrying a Kel Tec RDB rifle and a Glock handgun.
“Everything and anything that can go onto (a gun), they go after,” said Stobe, who had a C39v2 rifle.
On Monday, gun-rights advocates will have to share the Capitol spotlight with the opposing side, as the Alliance for Gun Responsibility is planning to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day, attend the hearing and meet with Gov. Jay Inslee, who supports many of the proposals.
A few lawmakers supportive of gun rights stopped by the rally, with Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, denouncing a new rule that keeps concealed weapons out of the Senate gallery and urging demonstrators to fight gun control legislation “with our dying breath.”
But one who addressed the crowd may hold the key to whether any gun control legislation can pass this year. Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, said he was a longtime member of the National Rifle Association, and said he would not vote for any bill that limits semi-automatic weapons, what some call “assault rifles” but what he called “sport-utility rifles.”
Democrats have just 50 seats in the House, the bare minimum to pass any legislation. If Republicans are unanimous in opposing any gun legislation and Blake joins them, the bill can’t pass.