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Panel approves changes for semi-auto rifle restrictions

UPDATED: Thu., March 1, 2018, 9:36 p.m.

OLYMPIA – Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, explains changes to a bill designed to improve school safety and restrict the sale of some firearms to the news media after a committee hearing Thursday. (Rachel Sun / The Spokesman-Review)
OLYMPIA – Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, explains changes to a bill designed to improve school safety and restrict the sale of some firearms to the news media after a committee hearing Thursday. (Rachel Sun / The Spokesman-Review)

In an effort to get the Legislature to approve some restrictions against firearms like the one used in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, Senate sponsors on Thursday removed specific references to those weapons from the latest gun safety measure.

It originally called for a ban on anyone younger than 21 from buying or possessing semi-automatic rifles or semi-automatic shotguns with “tactical” features, including pistol grip, folding stocks or flash suppressors. It also called for an additional background check for anyone buying such weapons.

At a meeting of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, the bill removed all references to tactical features. Instead, it proposes a ban on the sale of any semi-automatic rifle to a person younger than 21 and expanded background checks for all sales of those weapons to those 21 and older. Semi-automatic shotguns are not covered in the bill.

Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, the bill’s sponsor, acknowledged it was an effort to get the votes the proposal would need to pass the Legislature in the closing days of the session.

“I’m taking it one step at a time,” he said.

By putting age restrictions and expanded background checks on all semi-automatic rifles, it would include weapons like the AR-15, which was used in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting and other incidents. But it also encompasses many firearms that are not commonly used in crimes.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, asked committee staff explaining the changes if that applied to sales of all caliber of rifles “from the smallest plinking to the largest?” He was told it would.

It’s not clear how many firearm purchases the proposed law would cover.

Frockt said the changes cover a main goal of the legislation, having both a federal and a more detailed state background check on buyers, similar to what Washington requires for a handgun purchase.

“The bottom line is, we need to have a full background check on people who are going to buy a semi-automatic assault rifle,” he said. Those weapons would be encompassed in the broader language.

The committee also approved changes to portions of the bill that seek to boost school safety. It would require a nonprofit organization representing top law enforcement officials to develop emergency response systems for schools and require first-responder agencies to notify public and private schools near a school being evacuated or locked down.

Schools would be required to report to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction any incident alert and reporting system their district uses, and would have two Educational Service Districts set up regional school safety centers.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, proposed adding the authority to spend $500 million in state general obligation bonds to the bill to spend on mental health facilities around the state, to deal with the core issue behind school shootings.

“We need to be talking about mental health,” Braun said.

Frockt said mental health is a critical part of making schools safer, but the proposal added a large cost.

“We need to work out the cost of these bills,” he said. “We all want to get a good plan.”

The amended bill was sent to the full Senate for a possible vote in the coming days.


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