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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Assault weapon owners in Washington won’t need licenses

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks Feb. 2, 2017, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Inslee was urging the passage of bills enforcing safe gun storage and enhanced background checks when buying or selling assault weapons. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – Buying a semi-automatic assault weapon in Washington won’t require a special state license or a more extensive background check, although residents might be advised, but not required, to store their guns safely in their homes.

Despite calls from state officials and gun-control advocates for major changes in Washington’s gun laws as recently as two weeks ago, a key House committee on Thursday recommended incremental changes.

Proposals to ban certain semi-automatic rifles, sometimes called military assault weapons, never got a hearing, but a bill to require licenses for people who own, buy or sell them was near the top of the House Judiciary Committee calendar Thursday. But it didn’t get a vote and is likely dead for the year.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, had prepared an amendment that would strip out all references to licenses for the guns or large capacity magazines, leaving only the requirements that anyone buying such a weapon go through the same background checks required for a handgun.

But Jinkins, the committee’s chairwoman, pulled the bill from the schedule. Later, she explained she had agreed to move the bill only if it had the support of the National Rifle Association. On Wednesday night she received an email indicating the powerful gun-rights lobby would oppose even the stripped-down version, she said.

Without NRA support, the bill was unlikely to pass the full House, where Democrats have only a two-vote majority and several are strong supporters of gun rights. It didn’t get a vote at the committee’s last meeting before a key deadline Friday.

“The safe storage bill was the priority,” Jinkins said.

That bill did pass, although it, too, was changed to be less sweeping that the original version. It no longer calls for criminal charges for a person whose unsecured firearms are stolen in a burglary and later used in a crime. Under a “middle ground” amendment approved by the committee, a person who leaves an unsecured firearm accessible to a child could be charged with reckless endangerment if that the child takes the gun and hurts or kills someone.

“There’s no requirements for a safe or a trigger lock,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland. “If a child gets ahold of it…there have to be consequences.”

Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, said leaving a gun unsecured is not, by itself, a crime and the proposal could result in the state could be bringing charges against a grieving parent after a tragic gun accident.

But Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, said he would have opposed the original bill but voted for the new version because it doesn’t require a responsible person “to do a darn thing.”

“You can’t fix stupid with legislation,” Kirby said. “If you can keep your firearm out of the hands of a child, nothing bad will happen.”

The committee approved several other gun bills, including one that requires dealers to report to the Washington State Patrol the name of people who fail a background check when they try to buy a weapon. If that would-be buyer is the subject of a domestic violence protection order, the person protected by the order also would be notified of the attempted purchase.

Other bills expand the exemptions from background checks for transfers or gifts of firearms among certain relatives and allows voluntary temporary transfers of weapons from people who are suicidal. It recommended tax exemptions for gun storage devices, although Jinkins noted “exemptions are always tough to get through” the Appropriations Committee

The bills approved by the Judiciary Committee, while incremental, still represent a big change from several years ago, when only one gun bill got a hearing, Jinkins said.

“I think we’ve made incredible progress this year on gun violence,” she said. There’s no one single thing we can do to address gun violence.”

The Legislature was presented with a wide range of proposals on guns, both from those seeking more restrictions and those asserting stronger rights. Some were announced with fanfare, but faded in the process.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson called for an outright ban on assault weapons last fall; proposals were introduced in both chambers but got committee hearings in neither. With Friday’s deadline coming up, they and other bills that didn’t get out of their initial committee are likely dead for the year.

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, sponsored a bill that would have prohibited public facilities like stadiums and arenas from barring concealed pistol license holders from bringing their firearms. It was denounced by gun safety advocates and several pundits. It didn’t get a hearing in the Judiciary Committee.

A similar fate befell proposals that would have waived background checks for gun purchases if the buyer had concealed pistol license; that would have allowed anyone with a pistol license in another state to carry a concealed pistol in Washington; would have allowed a seller to waive the background check to anyone with a valid law enforcement commission card also did not get a hearing.

A Shea proposal to completely repeal Initiative 594, the voter-approved law that expanded background checks to many private firearms sales, generated cheers when he announced it on the steps of the Capitol during a gun rights rally. It didn’t get a hearing, either.

But the Legislature may be poised to tweak I-594, with additional exemptions for transfers among relatives moving through both chambers. Jinkins said they are willing to look at problems that residents raise and clarify the law.

One of the bills the committee passed Thursday “goes a long way to clean up a lot of the problems we identified two years ago with the initiative,” said Shea, who serves on the panel.

Committees in both houses have also approved a requirement that the Department of Licensing must send renewal notices to concealed pistol license holders 90 days before they expire. Such notices are common for other licenses the state requires, but because these are issued by local law enforcement, the department wasn’t tracking expirations.