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Washington attorney general, legislators pushing for stricter gun control laws

In this Oct. 2, 2018, file photo, semi-automatic rifles are displayed on a wall at a gun shop in Lynnwood, Wash. A bill passed to create the Washington Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention passed the House on a 53-44 vote Thursday and was sent to Gov. Jay Inslee to sign. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
In this Oct. 2, 2018, file photo, semi-automatic rifles are displayed on a wall at a gun shop in Lynnwood, Wash. A bill passed to create the Washington Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention passed the House on a 53-44 vote Thursday and was sent to Gov. Jay Inslee to sign. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

Attorney General Bob Ferguson and a group of Democratic legislators will try for more gun control legislation next year, with a push for pending bills that would ban the sale of high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic rifles and that would tighten rules for the sale of ammunition.

Ferguson, who has proposed gun control legislation in the past with some success, called for the state to ban the sale of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and to ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles that were restricted last year by an initiative requiring a more complete background check and a purchaser to be at least 21.

Banning the sale of semi-automatic rifles “will be a challenging bill,” Ferguson acknowledged at a Seattle news conference attended by local lawmakers willing to sponsor the the legislation.

“Enough is enough,” said Rep. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle. “It’s time for us to lead in Washington.”

Gun rights groups have opposed such efforts in the past and are likely to mount opposition to the bills in the coming session, said Dave Workman, of the Second Amendment Foundation.

Valdez sponsored a House bill last year to limit the sale of high-capacity magazines; it passed the House Law and Justice Committee on a party-line vote but never received a vote in the full House. That could change next year because the former Justice Committee Chairwoman Laurie Jinkins will be the House speaker, he said.

A similar bill restricting the sale of such magazines passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, also on a party-line vote, but did not come up for a floor vote. The sponsor of that bill, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, said the United States has more guns that people – a statistic from a Swiss institute published last year in the Washington Post.

“We’ve seen with Initiative 1639 the people of Washington want common sense gun legislation,” Kuderer said.

I-1639, which passed in November 2018 with about 59% of the vote, classified all semi-automatic rifles as assault rifles and required enhanced background checks and the same age restrictions as handgun sales. The bills introduced by Kuderer and Peterson, however, listed more than 60 individual weapons by manufacturer and type, or rifles with such features as a pistol grip, thumbhole stock, folding stock, flash suppressor or other features found on military weapons.

Workman said tens of thousands of those weapons are owned by Washington residents who use them for legal purposes.

“They’re going after something that looks evil,” he said.

Kuderer was also the sponsor of a semi-automatic rifle ban introduced last year that received no hearing in the Senate; it’s House counterpart, sponsored by Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, also failed to get a hearing.

New versions of bills restricting sales of large capacity magazines and semi-automatic rifles are expected to be filed today. They would not affect people who already own a semi-automatic rifle or a high-capacity magazine that were purchased legally before the law takes effect, Ferguson said.

The legislators said they were optimistic the ban on high-capacity magazine sales and semi-automatic rifles would pass, although “nothing’s a slam dunk,” Valdez said.

The restrictions on ammunition sales would be a new push in Washington, although 14 other states have some prohibitions, such as a ban on the sale of ammunition to felons and others who can’t legally buy a gun, Ferguson said. It would require stores or individuals who sell ammunition but aren’t licensed firearms dealers to obtain a license. It would eventually require a background check for people purchasing ammunition as soon as the National Instant Criminal Background System is available, he said.

Gun rights advocates will have to wait to see the latest versions of the legislation, Workman said, but they’re likely to oppose it. They’ll probably look at the background checks on ammunition as “a back-door gun registration scheme,” he said.

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