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Washington Legislature could see push to limit gun magazines

Ami Strahan, the mother of a student killed in the September 2017 shooting at Freeman High School, urges a Senate committee to pass limits on high-capacity gun magazines while Fred Rivara, a Seattle pediatrician who treats young trauma victims with gunshot wounds, listens on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. Strahan wore a button with a photo of her son Sam on her sweater. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)
Ami Strahan, the mother of a student killed in the September 2017 shooting at Freeman High School, urges a Senate committee to pass limits on high-capacity gun magazines while Fred Rivara, a Seattle pediatrician who treats young trauma victims with gunshot wounds, listens on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. Strahan wore a button with a photo of her son Sam on her sweater. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Gun control advocates will put their weight behind an effort to restrict high-capacity magazines as the 2020 Legislature considers a series of bills on firearms.

They can expect a fight from gun rights advocates on that and other proposals, such as new rules for receiving a concealed pistol license. They won’t push hard on a ban for military-style semi-automatic rifles.

“We’re putting focus on what is more plausible,” Rene Hopkins, of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, said Monday during a news conference after a Senate committee hearing on a high-capacity magazine bill. They haven’t discussed whether they’d seek a ballot initiative later this year if the magazine restrictions don’t pass.

Monday was the first of two days of hearings on gun control or gun safety proposals, with a House committee set for another round Tuesday. It brought out the typical arguments for and against almost any such legislation, although in a nod to Monday’s holiday both sides managed to mention Martin Luther King Jr. to bolster their arguments at some point during the hearing.

It was also the day when Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Washington would lead a coalition of 21 states challenging the Trump administration’s proposed rules to allow the release of computer files that can create a workable plastic gun on a 3D printer. The attorney general’s office already has won a court challenge of the administration’s earlier rules that would have allowed internet access to programs for what are sometimes called “ghost guns” because they can pass through a metal detector.

The Senate hearing filled one of the chamber’s largest hearing rooms to overflowing, with emotional testimony on both sides of a proposal would ban the sale of magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds.

Ami Strahan, whose 15-year-old son Sam was killed in September 2017 at Freeman High School, said the shooter brought hundreds of rounds of ammunition to the school that day. He injured four other students, but Sam may have been the only fatality because the shooter’s semi-automatic rifle with a 30-round magazine jammed.

“When did it become OK that only one kid died at a school shooting?” Ami Strahan said. After the hearing, she said she has moved to California because it was too painful to remain in the Freeman area. But she flew back to Olympia to tell her story and said she would come back whenever the alliance asked.

“I can share my story. You can effect change,” she told members of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Mike Van Dyke, a pediatric critical care physician, was called into Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center on the day of the Freeman shooting, which caused some of the worst injuries he’s seen. High-capacity magazines “make it easier to fire more rounds, faster,” he said.

Jim Parsons, whose daughter Carrie was killed in the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, said mass shooters seek fame through high death tallies.

“I’m not asking you to eliminate guns,” Parsons said. “Just pass a common sense gun law to eliminate mass shootings.”

Gun rights supporters, however, criticized the 10-round limit as impractical, because many common models of firearms come standard with magazines that are larger than that. Changing the limit on the number of rounds in a magazine is unlikely to impact crime, said Keely Hopkins, of the National Rifle Association.

Jane Milhans, who told the committee she survived a home invasion because she had a gun and knew how to use it, said sometimes it takes more than 10 rounds to stop a threat.

“It’s a woman’s right to own a firearm for personal protection. It levels the field,” Milhans said. “I don’t want to be a crime statistic.”

Sharyn Hincliffe, of Pink Pistols, which describes itself as a “pro-gay, pro-gun group,” said legislators should concentrate on the bigger problem of suicide, which is usually committed with pistols rather than rifles.

“Why is not the mental heath being treated?” Hincliffe asked, adding that legislators should pass a bill to have mental health professionals in every school. That, Hincliffe said, would do more to prevent gun deaths than “the fallacy that’s being pushed as gun violence.”

The committee also heard two proposals on changes to the concealed pistol license law. One would require an eight-hour training course on safety, storage and gun laws to receive a permit; the other would make a safety course voluntary but would give anyone who took it a seven-year license rather than the standard five years.

Washington has some 625,000 people who have active concealed pistol licenses. Supporters of a training requirement said the state is one of only 10 that don’t require passing some kind of training or test for a license. Opponents said it would only put law-abiding citizens at a disadvantage.

“Criminals don’t give a whit about obeying laws,” critic Allen Ernst said.

Two other bills would stiffen penalties for stealing a firearm, or using a stolen firearm in a crime, which seemed to bring a rare chance for support on both sides.

“Is there anyone who doesn’t support penalizing someone for stealing a gun?” asked Daniel Mitchell, who ownsa Vancouver gun store.

“It’s time for us to send a message to the legal and law-abiding gun owners over this state that we value them,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Law and Justice Committee Chairman Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said he believes he has the votes to send restrictions on magazine capacity to the full Senate, with a “decent chance” of getting it passed and through the full Legislature. The House also has a magazine-capacity bill that will be one of five gun control proposals to get a hearing Tuesday, but it would set the limit at 15 rounds.

“Of course there’s flexibility” about a final number, Pedersen said.

The House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee also will take testimony on an assault weapons ban, preventing dangerous people from acquiring ammunition, training requirements for concealed pistol licenses and giving local governments more authority to regulate firearms.

The Senate does not currently have a proposal to ban assault weapons this year. Pedersen said he believes it would likely require a two-thirds majority because voters passed restrictions on semi-automatic rifles with Initiative 1639 in 2018. The state constitution requires that supermajority to amend an initiative in its first two years.

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