Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson wants legislators to ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles often called “assault weapons” and high-capacity magazines, saying they are designed for killing people and have no place in civilian use.
Ferguson said Wednesday he’ll ask lawmakers to introduce a bill next year to prohibit the sale of semi-automatic weapons with certain military-style features and prohibit the sale of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Attempts to ban those weapons and magazines in the past have met with limited success. Congress passed a ban on certain types of semi-automatic firearms in 1994, and the backlash cost many Washington Democrats who voted for it their seats.
In Olympia, Democratic legislators have introduced bills to ban the weapons but have been unable to pass one in the state House of Representatives, even though Democrats control that chamber.
State Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, heads the Senate Law and Justice Committee that would hold hearings on any new bill. He said Wednesday he wasn’t aware of the details of Ferguson’s proposal but would follow his previous procedure on gun control measures, which was to hold a hearing in the Senate only if a bill passes the House. He described Ferguson’s announcement as “a Seattle press conference playing to a Seattle crowd,” noting that the attorney general is running for re-election.
Joined by elected officials, community leaders, the parents of a shooting victim and others at a news conference in Seattle, Ferguson said banning weapons such as the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle used to kill three young people in Mukilteo in July is constitutional and will save lives.
Ferguson is working with two Democratic state senators, David Frockt of Seattle and Kevin Ranker of Orcas Island, to draft legislation that will be introduced for the session starting in January. He said he’ll work to get bipartisan support from lawmakers.
“Will this be hard? You bet. Will the gun lobby engage on this issue? Absolutely,” Ferguson said. “But that certainly doesn’t deter me or the people in this room. I believe we can get this done.”
Because recent gun control measures have died in the Legislature, proponents have turned to the initiative process.
In 2014, Washington voters approved a ballot measure that created universal background checks for all gun sales, including those made online or at gun shows. This year, voters will decide whether to allow law enforcement or others to obtain court orders to temporarily take guns from people considered a danger to themselves or others.
Other states have passed similar legislation banning assault weapons, including New York and Connecticut, Ferguson’s office said. But the details of how the weapons would be described in a Washington proposal – which was a point of contention in the federal legislation that banned some and allowed others to be sold – have to be worked out, a spokesman said.
The federal ban expired in 2004 and was not renewed by Congress. Researchers were mixed on whether it had any effect on reducing violent crime.
Washington’s proposal would grandfather in legally owned assault weapons and provide “common sense” exceptions, including for on-duty law enforcement and some target shooting and hunting, Frockt said. It will not propose gun registration, he added.
Padden said a change to state firearms laws usually needs the support of both gun-control and gun-rights proponents, and it’s too soon to tell if this proposal can get that. Spokesmen for two major state gun-rights organizations, the Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, were not available to comment on Ferguson’s announcement.
“I’m concerned that terrorists and criminals could have these weapons but law-abiding citizens wouldn’t,” Padden said.
Staff writer Jim Camden and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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