OLYMPIA – A vote on a proposal to ban devices that allow for the rapid firing of semiautomatic rifles is scheduled for Tuesday morning – one day after a committee hearing that drew one of the largest crowds in recent memory.
The legislation, part of a package of Senate bills to tighten Washington gun laws, would ban a device known as a bump stock that figured prominently in the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas. It is expected to get a vote by the Law and Justice Committee on whether to send it to the full Senate.
The bill was one of five proposals to tighten Washington gun laws heard by the committee Monday with supporters saying they would save lives and opponents saying they are poorly written and could infringe on individual rights.
The ban on certain trigger devices was backed by relatives of Las Vegas shooting victims. Anne Marie Parsons, whose daughter Kerry was among those killed, said she was told by an FBI agent investigating the case that a bump stock modified the AR-15 that shot her daughter so that it went from being able to fire 45 rounds per minute to nine rounds per second.
“They were all mowed down, nobody stood a chance,” Parsons said.
But Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation said bump stocks often lower a firearm’s accuracy and the bill’s language goes beyond those devices to cover some common trigger modifications that should remain legal.
Another proposal would require anyone buying an “assault weapon” to undergo the same state background check required for people who want to buy a handgun, rather than the simpler federal background check for purchasing a rifle. It would also require the buyer to be at least 21, the same age required for buying a handgun, rather than 18.
Opponents called “assault weapon” a made-up, politically charged term. An “assault rifle” is a military-style automatic weapon that already is illegal, Brett Bass, a firearms instructor, said, but “assault weapon” has different definitions in different states.
“Lever action rifles are considered to be assault weapons in some states,” Bass said.
Jane Milhans, a firearms instructor from University Place, Washington, who once confronted two intruders in her home, said semiautomatic rifles are popular with women because they aren’t big and bulky.
“It is a woman’s right to own a firearm for protection,” Milhans said. “It gives her a fighting chance to survive.”
But Adam Cornell, deputy Snohomish County prosecutor who handled the Mukilteo shooting case in which 19-year-old Allen Ivanov killed three and injured one at a party, said the rifle was purchased just days before the shooting. It was designed to inflict the most carnage possible and easier to buy than a handgun, he said.
“It should not have been so easy for this angry 19-year-old to purchase this assault rifle,” Cornell said. To the argument that the guns are used in relatively few crimes, he later countered: “Isn’t one in a million too much?”
The hearing packed the Senate’s largest hearing room as well as two “overflow” rooms as 967 people signed up either for or against the bills, with 343 saying they wanted to testify. Even with witnesses limited to one or two minutes for their remarks, only a few dozen were able to testify.
Before the hearing room doors opened, the line of people wishing to watch or testify stretched through the hallway of the Senate Office Building, down the steps and along the sidewalk. Supporters of the bills wore orange scarves and shirts for the Alliance for Gun Responsibility or red T-shirts for Moms Demand Action on Gun Sense. Some opponents wore navy blue T-shirts from the National Rifle Association urging “Stand and Fight.”
A proposal that would allow cities and counties to pass tougher restrictions on where guns are allowed, drew the support of Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, who said cities should have the authority to limit guns in parks and places where children play.
Gottlieb argued that allowing greater local control of gun laws would lead to a “patchwork quilt” that would be confusing to gun owners. Instead, the Legislature should strengthen the current statute that gives the state the control over most firearms laws to say Seattle can’t put a special tax on ammunition, he said.
Legislation that would require gun owners to keep their weapons in locked storage within the home, would help prevent accidental shootings by children, supporters said. Thatcher Phelps, a pediatrician in Grandview, said he has children as young as 7 tell him they know exactly where a gun and its ammunition are in their house.
“Kids are simply not safe in homes where guns are left unsecured,” Phelps said.
Tim Moses, who testified at the hearing while holding his 1 year-old daughter Lily, said he could be in his safe in about four seconds and “if I need my gun faster than that, I wear it.”
But Michael Carpenter said the bill incorrectly focuses on law-abiding residents and ignores “the criminal element” that doesn’t follow gun laws. Sherri Erichson said she responsibly stores her firearms but has the right to protect herself and “easily access my firearms if someone’s in my house.”
Some of the gun bills heard Monday could face amendments in the coming days, but committee Chairman Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said several have Republican co-sponsors and he hopes they’ll have bipartisan support in the full Senate.
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