OLYMPIA – Lawmakers will consider multiple proposals this session to restrict access to guns in Washington.
A Senate committee on Monday heard proposals involving gun rights, including one that would ban the manufacture, possession and sale of any assault weapons, and one that would allow local governments to ban open carry at public meetings or in their facilities.
The sponsor of both bills, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, called assault weapons the “weapon of choice” in numerous deadly mass shootings.
“The list of tragedies will only grow longer until we do something to change this,” she said.
The bill to ban assault weapons lists 62 specific firearms that would be considered assault weapons. The definition includes a semiautomatic, centerfire or rimfire rifle that has an overall length of less than 30 inches.
It would be a felony to own, manufacture, sell or distribute any of these weapons in most cases, if the bill is enacted.
It does not include antique firearms or those that are permanently inoperable, according to the bill.
There are exceptions under the bill, including a person who legally possesses the weapon on the effective date of the act or acquires one upon the death of its owner. Government agents and law enforcement would be allowed to possess them within the scope of their job. Those who are lawfully engaging in shooting at a shooting range or in a sporting event may also use them.
Those who could can legally possess them on the effective date of the bill would still have restrictions under the bill. They could use the weapons on property they own. And they could use them while engaged in lawful outdoor recreation, such as hunting or at a licensed firing range.
The bill follows a similar one in Maryland that has so far withstood legal challenges.
Aoibheann Cline, state director for the National Rifle Association, urged lawmakers to wait on passing this bill as the U.S. Supreme Court continues to hear appeals on the Maryland law.
The Washington bill would ban “millions of constitutionally protected firearms,” Cline said.
“There’s no such thing as an assault weapon,” she said. “It’s a made-up term to scare Americans.”
Kuderer told members of the committee that the Second Amendment would not be violated through this bill.
Kristin Beneski, assistant attorney general in Washington, testified in support of the bill, saying it is constitutional.The bill has a demonstrable and important government interest in public safety, Beneski said.
Dr. Michael Van Dyke, a Spokane-based pediatrician, testified in support of the bill. He cited the shooting at Freeman High School in 2017 when a former high school student shot and killed one classmate and wounded three others. Though Caleb Sharpe brought an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to the school, it jammed when he tried to use it. He then drew a handgun to use in his attack. Sharpe, now 20, pleaded guilty to one count of premeditated murder, three counts of attempted murder and multiple counts of second-degree assault earlier this month.
“Some of the worst injuries I’ve seen are coming from firearms,” Van Dyke said. He noted that the injuries at Freeman High School likely would have been much worse had the AR-15 been operable.
A separate bill that would prohibit the manufacture, possession, distribution and sale of large capacity magazines with more than 17 rounds of ammunition is currently awaiting floor action in the Senate. It was first discussed last year with stricter guiance but has since been amended.
The bill could see floor action in the Senate as soon as this week, but Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said Monday it likely wouldn’t be on the floor this week.
The committee also heard a proposal that would allow local governments to ban open carry at public meetings and permitted demonstrations and in buildings or facilities owned by those local governments. The bill would allow local governments to enact laws similar to one the Legislature passed last session that banned open carry on the Capitol campus and public demonstrations.
Kuderer, who also sponsored the open carry bill last session, said she has heard from city and county officials that they wanted the ability to enact similar laws in their jurisdictions.
When asked about the constitutionality of this law, Kuderer said she believed it would withstand a court challenge.
“This is not an issue of whether you may possess a weapon, but where you may carry it,” she said.
Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs testified in favor of the bill. He said it would give individual cities the ability to figure out what their needs are.
“The danger of gun intimidation is one that would potentially be out there for us,” he said. “But I’m not trying to tell some other city how they should do it.”
Another proposal heard Monday would fix some confusion in regards to allowing honor guard or color guard members to carry a firearm or other weapon while on the Capitol campus and actively participating in memorial events.
Bill sponsor Sen. Chris Gildon, R-Puyallup, said the proposal makes “a small change” in the bill that passed last year. Kuderer said she agreed the intent of the bill was not to limit those memorial events.