Bill would ban assault rifles
March 16, 2023
The manufacture, distribution and sale of any assault weapon would be prohibited by legislation passed by the state House of Representatives and now in the Senate.
“There has been a dramatic shift in the public, I think there’s been a shift in the legislature,” said Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane. “I think this bill has momentum and will have a good chance to pass.”
Substitute House Bill 1240 was introduced by Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds.
Assault weapons are defined very specifically in the bill as particular brands and models, and generally as weapons with specific features. The bill would ban semiautomatic rifles with an overall length of less than 30 inches; semiautomatic centerfire rifles that accept a detachable magazine and or a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds; semiautomatic pistols that have the capacity to accept a detachable magazine; some semiautomatic shotguns; and conversion kits and parts.
The bill contains several exceptions: Licensed firearms manufacturers can sell to the armed forces of the United States or Washington, or to any law enforcement agencies for law enforcement purposes, or to a person who does not reside in Washington. Licensed firearms dealers also can sell assault weapons that were acquired from an individual legally authorized to possess or transfer the weapon, for the purpose of selling or transferring the weapon to a person who does not reside in Washington. Any person may acquire an assault weapon upon the death of the weapon's former owner, if that former owner was in legal possession of the weapon and the person who acquires possession can establish such provenance, the bill report says.
The term ‘assault weapon’ would exclude antique firearms, a permanently inoperable firearm and any firearm manually operated by bolt, pump, lever or slide action.
Under current law, Washington prohibits residents from manufacturing, owning, buying and selling any machine gun, undetectable firearm and other specified weapons. There are certain restrictions on semiautomatic assault rifles under current law as well.
Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, said he can’t support the bill because citizens have a constitutional right to bear arms.
“This policy impairs your right to bear arms in defense of yourself and the state,” he said. “It is unconstitutional.”
The nation has experimented with assault weapon bans in the past, he said. In the 1990s, assault weapons were banned at the federal level and that did not have an affect on crime rates and did not put a dent in violent crime.
Ultimately, the federal government abandoned the experiment and deemed it not effective for public safety or decreasing crime but deemed it an infringement on a person’s constitutional right, Walsh said.
Peterson said it all comes down to a long list of mass shootings.
He first introduced this legislation after a shooting in his community eight years ago, when a young man who was 19 years old legally purchased an AR-15 and shot up a house party, leaving three people dead and one person injured, he said. SHB 1240 would prohibit the sale of this type of assault weapon and guns that are similar.
Peterson said it seems there are news articles every week on mass shootings, and these incidents sometimes don’t even make headlines.
“We seem to be becoming numb to the scourge of violence that is happening with these assault weapons,” he said.
Peterson said in 2021 there were 697 mass shootings around the country. In 2022, there were around 650 mass shootings, he said. There are nearly 70 mass shootings this year so far.
“Yes, there are other guns that create death and tragedy in communities, and certainly even other weapons do the same,” he said. “But the percentage of mass shootings that are used by these weapons of war is something that we here in the state of Washington can do something about.”
Peterson said the bill is not about going after people’s guns. It is a bill about limiting the continuing purchase and expansion of the use of assault weapons in the state of Washington.
Walsh countered that SHB 1240 makes a mistake that a lot of other bills make as well.
“It assumes that by restricting the choices and options of law-abiding citizens in how they choose to protect themselves, it will somehow affect the behavior of psychopaths and criminals,” he said. “Let’s not penalize law-abiding citizens in an effort to deter the actions of criminals…let’s pursue more effective ways to fight crime in our communities.”
All 55 votes to move the bill forward were Democrats. Of the 42 votes against the bill, 40 were Republican and two were Democrats.
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