Nearly 1,000 people from law enforcement, gun rights groups, gun violence prevention groups, veterans, and Washington State residents signed in to support or oppose contested firearm bills heard on Monday Jan. 15.
Hundreds lined up along the corridors of the Capitol’s Cherberg Building, where Senate bills are heard, and along exterior sidewalks to get into the hearing.
Packed into three filled hearing rooms, activists, lawmakers, and citizens heard five bills. Those under consideration included banning bump stocks and high capacity magazines, a measure to expand background checks for rifles, requirements for gun storage, and a bill to allow city governments to enact their own firearm regulations.
Following the October, 2017 mass shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas, bump stocks have been a national issue. Testimony for the bill proposing a ban on bump stocks, SB 5992 sponsored by Senator Kevin Van De Wege, D-Port Angeles, included words from a survivor of the shooting.
Seattle resident Emily Cantrell attended the concert with her financé. Cantrell said she heard what she thought were firecrackers until one woman fell next to her.
“We were sitting ducks with no way to fight back,” Cantrell said.
The shooter reportedly used bump stocks, assault rifles, and other weapons from a hotel room overlooking the nearby concert.
Van De Wege, a lifetime NRA member, said this type of attack could be prevented with the new legislation.
Guns fitted with bump stocks are not considered machine guns under the law because they technically require the shooter to pull the trigger each time the weapon is fired. The stocks, however, use the firearm’s recoil power to increase the rate of fire.
Retired detective for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, William Burris, said that bump stocks are the least popular item to defend in the firearms community. However, he urged lawmakers to ensure the language in the bill does not restrict trigger modifications that make the firearm more accurate and safer to use.
Redmond resident Kelly Birr testified against the bill. Birr said the bill unduly restricts those with physical or muscular disabilities. He said the bump stocks help people like himself operate a weapon without expensive prosthetics.
Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said bump stocks will not make semi-automatic rifles into machine guns, and they often jam or inhibit a gun’s accuracy.
The Senate Law and Justice Committee heard two amendments to the proposed bump stock bill on Tuesday, Jan. 16. One changed the language of the bill from “trigger modification devices” to “bump fire stocks” using a narrower definition. The other amendment would not ban bump stocks but would require someone to obtain a background check before purchase. The committee rejected the second adjustment and advanced the bill with the first adjustment to the rules committee.
High capacity magazines
The Las Vegas shooter also reportedly used high capacity magazines, which SB 6049, sponsored by Senator David Frockt, D-Kenmore addresses. There are several exemptions to the high capacity magazine bill, including law enforcement, inheritance from a family member, and licensed shooting ranges.
Frockt said none of the bills ban sale or possession of assault rifles in the state. He said SB 6049 would make Washington the tenth state including the District of Columbia to prohibit sale of high capacity magazines. He also said that federal courts of appeal have upheld this type of legislation.
Gottlieb also testified against the high capacity magazine bill. He said 10 rounds is often a standard capacity for magazines in handguns and rifles that are often used in state-sanctioned competitions.
Keely Hopkins, state liaison for the National Rifle Association, spoke against this bill saying large capacity magazines make up about half the standard weapons in the state. This bill would be overbroad and limit the rights of thousands of law abiding gun owners, she said.
Frockt also sponsors SB 5444, which calls for expanding background checks. Federal law requires a licensed firearms seller to run a background check on those who want to purchase a gun using the national instant criminal background check system, or NICS database. In Washington state, a person who wants to own a pistol has to undergo more background checks than someone who wants to own a rifle or long gun. These extra checks for pistols include going through the Washington State Patrol database, the Department of Licensing for guns, and state and local mental health facilities.
SB 5444 proposes making the background check requirements the same for rifles as handguns.
Speaking in favor of the bill, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell said the worst day in his career was when he was called to the scene of the Mukilteo shooting when a 19-year-old man killed three people at a party.
“It only took 35 seconds for three beautiful children’s lives to be ruined, the lives of their families, and the community of Mukilteo,” he said. “It should not have been so easy for this 19-year-old to purchase an assault rifle.”
Semi-automatic weapons are the most commonly owned firearms in the state used for home defense, competition, and hunting, according to the NRA’s Hopkins, who spoke against the background check bill. She also said only about two percent of violent crimes nationally are committed with assault weapons. Generally, she said every bill heard on Monday would unduly restrict the rights of lawful gun owners.
Senator Guy Palumbo, D-Bothell is sponsoring SB5463 which mandates civil actions for firearm storage.
Lieutenant Adrian Diaz with the Seattle Police Department said he supports the right to keep and bear arms but that he understands the necessity to safely store them. Speaking in favor of the firearm storage bill, he said more than 75 percent of all youth suicide attempts are made with guns left in the home and 65 percent of school shootings are committed with unsecured guns in the home.
This bill, he said, would hold people accountable without penalizing responsible gun owners.
Hopkins said the NRA encourages owners to store weapons in a safe way that makes sense for their situation but this bill goes too far in mandating gun owners. She claimed it provides no protection for people who have their guns stolen in a home invasion.
“As a woman, it’s my right to be able to protect myself and be able to easily access my firearm in my home in the case of an intruder,” Pierce County resident Sherri Erickson said.
Local gun regulations
Senator Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle/Renton, is sponsoring SB 6146, the local gun regulations bill. She said she’s seen shell casings in a park near swing sets and wants to support communities facing a lot of gun violence.
Still, “citizens that have no criminal intent should not be placed in jeopardy of violating local restrictions that they aren’t even aware of simply because they’ve crossed from one city into another,” Hopkins said.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, arguing in favor of the bill, said Seattle has already taken substantial steps
toward gun safety progress. She said the city created a requirement for stolen guns to be reported within 24 hours, taxes gun sales and uses the funds to support gun violence prevention efforts, and has increased background checks.
“Gun violence prevention can and should happen at every level of government,” she said.
All five gun regulation bills heard on Monday are sponsored by democratic lawmakers. Chair of the law and justice committee Senator Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle noted support from across the aisle during a press conference with pro-gun regulation group Alliance for Gun Responsibility. He noted Republican lawmakers who are co-sponsoring some gun regulation bills, including Senators Joe Fain, R-Covington, Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, and Mike Paddon, R-Spokane.
“What this group is suggesting are common sense measures which respect people’s individual rights while also respecting their right to live free from gun violence,” Governor Jay Inslee said during the conference. “The things that are under consideration are so common sense. Frankly, we should not be having so much argument about it in the legislature.”
This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.