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Bans on open carry at protests, high capacity mags top WA gun safety group’s agenda in 2021

Gun control groups have their agendas set for 2021. (Getty Images)

Dealing with the pandemic, police accountability, and issues surrounding systemic racism and equality are expected to take up much of the focus of this upcoming legislative session. But we can expect some of the more familiar debates as well, including gun safety measures.

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“You know, our 2021 agenda really reflects the many challenges and lessons of 2020 particularly COVID historic calls for police accountability and the armed intimidation. It also really reflects an understanding that our lawmakers have an incredibly tough job ahead,” said Renee Hopkins, Executive Director of Washington’s Alliance for Gun Responsibility.

“That said, the pandemic has not slowed the gun violence epidemic,” she continued. “In fact, it’s actually exacerbated it. We see a rise in all kinds of gun violence, gun sales have skyrocketed, and the devastating impacts are being seen in domestic violence homicides that are spiking, community violence is surging and even mass shootings have broken records.”

In fact, by last month, research group Gun Violence Archive had already reported a 35% increase in mass shootings in the U.S. from the year prior with 562 mass shootings in 2020 reported by the middle of November, compared to 417 in all of the previous year. Researchers say that’s the highest number since they started tracking data in 2013 and a steep increase over the previous five years.

Researchers define mass shootings as incidents where four or more people, excluding the perpetrator(s), are shot in one location at roughly the same time.

And those aren’t the only concerns.

“Sadly, experts are really sounding alarms about a suicide crisis that we are also seeing,” Hopkins said.

So while state lawmakers will have other priorities, Hopkins says they also must keep up  momentum of recent years on gun safety in Washington.

“We really can’t afford to press pause on the work that we’re doing,” she explained. “We need to ensure that our communities are safe from preventable gun violence as we recover from the pandemic. We’re focusing this year on restrictions to open carry, we really have to stop the intimidation through the open carry of firearms, and this is one of the most alarming trends that we’ve seen this year is the increase in armed vigilante activity and threats with firearms.”

She points to incidents like the deadly shootings in Kenosha during protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake to shootings this month at dueling protests in Olympia as evidence of the need for action.

“We really need to have common sense limits on open carry to ensure that firearms are not used to intimidate or discourage people in public demonstrations. People’s first amendment rights really cannot be jeopardized,” she added.

Democratic Senator Jaime Pedersen recently weighed in on the issue.

“We’ve had quite a few examples in the last few months of armed folks showing up at other people’s protests with the apparent intent to intimidate or threaten them from being able to exercise their first amendment rights. So I think we’re going to have a robust question about some of those incidents that we’re talking about,” he said during a policy conference earlier this month.

The other big push is a familiar one.

“We’re also going to be continuing our efforts to have restrictions on high capacity magazines — we know that high capacity magazines make shootings deadlier, and so we know that restricting access to high capacity magazines will save lives,” Hopkins said.

The effort has come up short in recent years, including this past session. California was able to get a law limiting so-called high capacity magazines – those with more than 10 rounds – on the books, but it was struck down as an unconstitutional violation of the second amendment in August by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. That does not deter Hopkins, though.

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‘The California law that was struck down in the 9th Circuit earlier this year is a very expansive ban both retroactively and in future,” she pointed out. “So we really take a different approach in our policy here in Washington state. Also to note there has been a request for an en banc review in the 9th Circuit. And so you know, it will be interesting to see whether the full court does decide to take it up and if they do, then of course, the previous ruling will no longer stand.”

Gun rights advocates will fight against any such ban on large magazines, which they consistently point out covers most magazines these days. Dave Workman at GunMag.com says gun rights advocates will also push back on a proposal to require background checks on all ammunition, which they believe amounts to a de facto registry.

As for the ban on open carry at protests, Workman notes, Washington has always been an open carry state, and gun owners know the right to bear arms in defense of one’s self and the state is enshrined in Article 1, Section 24 of the state constitution. Workman also points to prior legal opinions that have backed that up.

Workman also cites second amendment defenders long held position, that that passing laws like this do nothing to improve safety – as evidenced by this year’s spike in gun violence – because they are gun control laws and criminals do not follow the law.

But Hopkins doesn’t buy it.

“That’s an argument that just falls flat with me. We are a country that believes in the rule of law and if people still choose to open carry, if we’re successful in passing this bill this year, then they will have to suffer the consequences per the rule of law,” she said.

While some of these priorities have been a struggle to get through in the past, Hopkins is excited to see what some of the new lawmakers on the block do this session.

“As we’re looking at the sort of newer generation of elected officials, I think there’s just a different understanding of what gun violence prevention efforts look like and can mean now than there was even five years ago,” Hopkins said. “I think the idea that gun violence prevention is a third rail of politics is just no longer true, and I think that our legislature is starting to reflect that.”

Because even though the numbers have not changed as far as the majorities go, Hopkins says there has still been a shift.

“As we have seen across our state and the country, the vast majority of individuals, voters really demand more work on responsible gun laws. And so I think with each new legislator coming in, they’re just coming in with a different frame of mind around gun violence prevention,” she noted.

Workman notes gun owners’ ability to push back on some of these proposals will depend entirely on their willingness and ability to get involved and speak up at hearings, during what is expected to be a very different and very virtual legislative session.

Hopkins is ready for it.

“We know it’s going to be a really challenging and different session. But we also know that Washingtonians continue to demand stronger gun laws and abilities to keep their community safe and that’s what we’ll be working toward,” she vowed.

You can see the Alliance for Gun Responsibility’s full 2021 legislative agenda here.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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