Thursday, March 23, 2023
March 23, 2023

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Gun measures resonate as Washington legislative session ends

Opponents: Democratic bills constitute threats to Second Amendment

By , Columbian staff writer

From “ghost guns” to magazine limits, when Washington’s 2022 legislative session draws to a close today, Democrats will have added four new bills to the books targeting gun ownership, possession and use.

Proponents of the legislation say the bills are long overdue and have widespread support from Washingtonians. Opponents argue that the bills are further examples of the state government’s overreach and most, if not all, violate Second Amendment rights.

Coming so soon after the passage of Initiative 1639 in 2018 — which strengthened some gun-storage and waiting-period laws, and increased the age to purchase semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21 — the new legislation may well be the last straw for Vancouver business owner Randy Winkel.

Winkel, who owns and operates Brass Tacks Munitions and the English Pit Shooting Range in Vancouver, is considering moving his business to a more gun-friendly state, such as Idaho or Montana. The shooting range is used by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, although a move to Camp Bonneville has been in the works since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I know of at least three other companies that have recently moved out of Washington state, out of the Vancouver area,” Winkel said. “One has gone to Idaho, and two others have gone to Montana.”

Winkel said Washington already has so many gun laws in effect that adding more will make it harder for his business to survive. (A legal challenge to I-1639 was dismissed in August 2020.)

Winkel has already shifted more of his business to an online platform, he said, and that can be done from any state, especially if that state is more friendly to the gun industry.

High-capacity magazines

Renee Hopkins, CEO for the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, said the Legislature has been making progress on gun legislation for years, but this year’s bills are a reflection of what voters want.

“I think, finally, our legislators both know they can do big and bold things and know that the vast majority of Washingtonians and their constituents are demanding that they do so,” Hopkins said. “Our hope is that everything that we pass is implemented appropriately and that they will end up saving lives.”

Perhaps the most controversial of the measures is Senate Bill 5078, which bans the sale of magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds and was requested by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood.

This is the sixth session that Ferguson’s office has requested the legislation. While the bill bans the sale and distribution of high-capacity gun magazines, it does not prohibit their possession.

Democrats and gun-control advocates claim the bill will reduce gun violence.

“When high-capacity magazines are used in shootings, the result is more death and more injury. States that have limitations on high-capacity magazines have fewer deaths and fewer injuries in mass shooting situations,” Hopkins said.

Corrections officers, law enforcement and the military are exempt from the law, as are licensed firearms dealers that sell to them. Violations would be a gross misdemeanor with penalties of up to one year in jail or a fine of $5,000.

Recalling a 2016 shooting in Mukilteo, Liias said during a Feb. 9 Senate hearing, “I vowed to myself and to my community that I would do everything in my power to ensure that no family has to go through what our community went through. This measure will make Washington a safer place.”

The bill passed the Senate 28-20 and passed the House 55-42.

Winkel is waiting to see how this bill and the others will affect his business. Along with specializing in new and once-fired cartridge cases and shooting accessories, he is also a licensed firearms seller. Winkel said he’s been plagued with supply issues since before the pandemic, and the new legislation could make it worse.

“There’s always a fear of the Democrats imposing gun-control legislation, and that causes, basically, a run on the bank,” he said.

‘Ghost guns’

House Bill 1705 — sponsored by state Rep. Liz Berry, D-Seattle — cracks down on “ghost guns” by restricting the manufacture and sale of untraceable firearms and unfinished frames and receivers. It also sets standards for marking untraceable firearms and unfinished frames and receivers with serial numbers.

“We’ve seen a huge increase of those kinds of firearms being used in domestic violence situations,” Hopkins said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, passage of the bill was divided along party lines. In the House, the vote was 57-39; in the Senate, it was 26-23.

The first violation is a civil infraction punishable by a fine of $500. A second violation is punishable as a misdemeanor, and subsequent violations are punishable as gross misdemeanors.

“Gun violence is a public health crisis that has reached record levels in our state. It is now the leading cause of death for children and teenagers. As a mother, that is terrifying,” Berry said at a Feb. 21 Senate hearing. “We know that gun violence is preventable. I believe as lawmakers, we must do everything we can to prevent deaths in our community and to keep people safe.”

Also testifying at the Senate hearing was Aoibheann Cline, Northwest regional director for the National Rifle Association. Cline said the bill is simply a solution looking for a problem.

“Proponents of this legislation … have told you that these so-called ghost guns are rampant in the streets of Washington and are a threat to public safety,” Cline said. “This fits nicely with the narrative of groups whose end goal is to dismantle the Second Amendment, but it doesn’t fit here in Washington.”

HBs 1630, 1901

House Bill 1630 — sponsored by state Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island — has also passed the House and Senate and now heads to the governor.

The bill bans open-carry firearms and other weapons from local government meetings — whether those meetings are held in a government building or any other location — as well as election sites and off-campus school board meetings. Concealed-pistol licenses would still be allowed, and law enforcement, school security and some military personnel would be exempt.

“Guns are completely banned from ballot-counting sites and school board meetings on a school campus,” Senn said by phone Wednesday.

The first violation would be charged as a misdemeanor, but further violations would be charged as gross misdemeanors, with possible penalties of a year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

“As a former city council member myself, and somebody who watches the news and sees all angry citizens coming out to school board meetings and around election sites, I certainly knew that local folks needed as much protection as we do at the state level,” Senn said.

According to a 2021 report from the National League of Cities, more than 80 percent of local government officials surveyed reported experiencing harassment, threats and violence. The bill is intended to ensure that local government officials, school board members and citizens are not intimidated or blocked from accessing democracy, Senn added.

The last of the three House bills is HB 1901, sponsored by state Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland. The bill updates existing state laws to include the ability to revoke an individual’s firearm rights under certain conditions when there is a civil protection or restraining order in effect. It also allows the release of personal information from concealed-pistol license applications to authorized individuals.

The bill passed the House with a 71-25 vote and the Senate with a 30-17 vote. It, too, next heads to the governor’s desk for a signature.