A number of bills concerning firearms are being considered by the Legislature this year as lawmakers in Olympia decide whether to place restrictions on high-capacity magazines, semi-automatic rifles and the open carrying of guns in some public places.
Some of the bills have been proposed before, like banning the sale or transfer of high capacity magazines and semi-automatic rifles like AR-15s. Democratic lawmakers say there is renewed momentum after a year of gun violence at political rallies and the storming of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
Violence has touched protests in Washington state too. Protesters were shot at two events in December at the State Capitol Campus in Olympia.
To address this, HB 1234 would ban carrying weapons at the State Capitol. Two other bills, SB 5038 and HB 1283, would prohibit open carry at or near public demonstrations and in a situation where a reasonable person would feel threatened, respectively.
Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-45th District) said these bills are ones she hopes pass this year. She cited the violence in Washington, D.C., but also an incident last year, where former State Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) and hundreds of people with guns showed up on the campus at the same time as an elementary school outing.
“This is really about using open carry as a mechanism to intimidate people who want to access democracy, and who want to have their voices heard,” Dhingra said.
She noted that only open carry would be prohibited at the Capitol grounds and demonstrations. People with concealed pistol licenses would still be able to carry weapons for personal protection as long as they’re out of sight.
Another bill includes SB 5078, which would outlaw selling or transferring high capacity magazines, but would still allow people who already have these devices to keep them. However, they would only be use them while at shooting ranges or hunting. It would restrict the number of rounds that new magazines could hold to only 10.
The last of the five bills is SB 5217, which would ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles like the popular AR-15. Similar to high-capacity magazines, they would only be allowed to be used at shooting ranges or for hunting.
State Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-48th District) is sponsoring the high capacity magazine, automatic rifle and open carry bills.
“I think people are watching what’s been happening with an armed insurrection at the nation’s Capitol,” she said. “I think that people have seen that we need to have more common sense gun legislation in place so that people can feel safe when they go out in public.”
The high-capacity magazine sales ban is the focus this year. It’s the preferred tool for mass shooters, she said.
Dave Workman, editor in chief of The Gun Mag, published by the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, questioned whether this would effectively reduce gun violence. With perhaps millions of large magazines already circulating around the state, without unique serial numbers, he said he didn’t know how the state would prevent someone who wanted one from getting one if they were determined.
“Sometimes they do these things,” Workman said. “Lawmakers propose such legislation simply to create the impression that they’re doing something.”
High-capacity magazine bans have been proposed in recent Legislature sessions and have failed. Still, the bill is a priority for the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, said Kristen Ellingboe, the organization’s communications manager.
While there are already many high-capacity magazines in circulation, she hopes that limiting future sales will help reduce gun violence.
“The precious seconds that it takes a shooter to reload can and often do make the difference between life and death,” she said.
SB 5078 outlines the lawmaker’s case against the magazines. It states that they have been used in all 10 of the deadliest mass shootings since 2009, and caused twice as many deaths and 14 times as many injuries. During the 2014 shooting at Seattle Pacific University, many potential victims were able to escape or disarm the shooter as the shooter reloaded.
“Such opportunities are necessarily reduced when large capacity magazines are used,” the bill states.
And for Ellingboe, the issue of police accountability is also tied to gun legislation. She noted there are several bills tied to policing that are moving through the Legislature. The presence of firearms makes it harder for law enforcement to do their job, but law enforcement must be able to ensure it’s accountable to communities, she said.