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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gun control bills move forward on party-line votes

Police work the scene of a shooting on Third Avenue and Pine Street, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Seattle. (Amanda Snyder / Seattle Times)

OLYMPIA – With a series of shootings in Seattle filling local news reports, Democrats moved proposed restrictions on the size of gun magazines and training requirements for concealed pistol licenses out of a key Senate committee Thursday over Republican objections.

The House also passed a proposal that would allow the Washington State Patrol to destroy firearms confiscated from crimes, despite objections from critics that the guns should always be sold to help the agency’s budget and provide protections for people who can’t afford new weapons.

A Wednesday night shooting in downtown Seattle left one person dead, seven wounded and three suspected of the crime – including two who remained at large as of Thursday night – as the Law and Justice Committee met to decide whether several gun control bills should get a chance for a vote by the full Senate.

That incident, and two shootings in the previous 24 hours, were mentioned as the panel debated whether to place a limit of 10 rounds on most gun magazines sold in the state, although current owners of large capacity magazines would be “grandfathered in.”

“This is nothing more than window dressing,” Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Spokane, said. If the state lowers the capacity from 15 rounds to 10, it’s just “biting around the edges” and could mean that 10 people are killed instead of 15, he said.

“We’re not addressing the mental health issues at all,” Holy said, adding that when he was in high school, it was common for students to bring their guns to school if they were going hunting later in the afternoon.

Sen. Patty Kuderer, the bill’s sponsor, said she went to high school in the same era, but times have changed and now students have active shooter drills. Other countries have the same mental health problems, but not the same problems with gun violence, she said.

“We’ve tried it the NRA’s way for a decade. I think we need to try it a different way,” said Kuderer, D-Bellevue. If the law passes but doesn’t produce results “then we can re-evaluate.”

Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, asked if Kuderer would be willing to amend the bill to require re-evaluation after a certain period. The bill’s language had been worked out with the state attorney general and was “good to go,” Kuderer replied, but the Legislature regularly re-evaluates laws when it believes they aren’t working.

The limits on magazine size were sent to the full Senate on a 4-3 partisan vote, as was a separate bill to require people who apply for a concealed pistol license to first take an eight-hour course on gun handling, safety and laws.

Sen. Jesse Salomon, the bill’s sponsor, said the majority of states have such requirements.

“This is about training … so it’s not a shoot-first society,” Solomon, D-Shoreline, said. “I’m not saying anybody’s a criminal here.”

Wilson said gun safety classes are so backed up that it could result in people not getting a license because they can’t get the training. “That’s an infringement to self-defense,” she said.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he would have preferred the committee vote on a separate bill that made training voluntary and give a license holder an extra two years on the five-year license.

The committee did give unanimous support to a proposal to add a new felony to state law for the theft of a firearm from a home, store or vehicle. Conviction of the crime would carry a sentence of 15 to 20 months in prison. The proposal would carry an increased penalty from the current statute against stealing a firearm, which is 12 to 14 months.

The House also had a partisan debate about an hour later on a proposal to allow the State Patrol to destroy firearms that are ordered forfeited by the court because they are seized during the commission of a crime or from someone not legally allowed to have one.

Republicans like Rep. Jenny Graham, of Spokane, said the guns should instead be sold to law-abiding citizens who want to protect themselves.

“Don’t destroy a weapon that can be used for good purposes,” said Graham, who added she has a concealed pistol permit. “You can’t assure it is going to wind up in the wrong hands.”

They could be sold as used guns that low-income residents and single mothers in high crime areas might better afford, said Rep. Matt Shea, a Spokane Valley lawmaker recently kicked out of the House Republican caucus.

But Democratic supporters said the proposed law only provides the option to destroy confiscated guns.

“There is no strict mandate,” Rep. Christine Kilduff, of University Place, said. “We should let our State Patrol make the call. They’re on the front lines.”

The bill was sent to the Senate on a 56-42 vote, with all Democrats but one voting yes. Democratic Rep. Brian Blake, of Aberdeen, joined all the Republicans.