Significant gun legislation advances through WA Senate in tight vote

Mar 2, 2023, 6:06 PM | Updated: Apr 3, 2023, 1:11 pm

gun ferguson...

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee (left) and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (right) are pictured before speaking to media. (Photo by Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)

(Photo by Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)

A bill, Senate Bill 5078, to ensure that gun manufacturers and dealers — like other purveyors of dangerous goods — must take reasonable steps to prevent their products from getting into the hands of dangerous individuals passed in the state Senate Thursday by a 28-21 vote.

Coined as the Firearm Industry Responsibility & Gun Violence Victims’ Access to Justice Act, it is to ensure that firearms manufacturers and sellers will face liability if they fail to establish, implement, and enforce reasonable controls in the manufacture, sale, distribution, and marketing of firearms to keep them out of the hands of dangerous individuals.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Gov. Jay Inslee announced this act last December alongside their intent to renew the call for a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons.

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“This policy will ensure that the gun industry is treated like every other industry and faces real consequences for irresponsible conduct,” Ferguson said in a prepared statement. “Today’s important vote is a significant step toward improving public safety in Washington.”

Changes in federal law, including the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), have shielded gun manufacturers and sellers from liability in certain circumstances. However, Congress has encouraged states to regulate firearm sales and marketing practices by exempting such state laws from PLCAA. SB 5078 is one such law.

“This legislation provides accountability for a gun industry that has too often failed to take necessary precautions to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands,” Gov. Inslee said in a prepared statement. “Industry negligence costs lives — this bill lets the industry know we won’t abide this status quo any longer. Thank you to the bill’s sponsors and the Attorney General’s Office for advancing accountability in the gun industry.”

While SB 5078 moves forward, other gun-restricting bills failed to advance in the Legislature, including House Bill 1144. This bill required an individual who wants to purchase a firearm to complete an officially-sanctioned firearms training course. The course must be re-completed every five years in order to maintain the permit. Its companion bill, Senate Bill 5232, is still alive, though.

HB 1130 also failed to get passed, which would have forced gun manufacturers and distributors to adopt and implement reasonable controls to prevent straw purchasers, firearm traffickers, unauthorized individuals, and individuals who pose a risk to themselves or others from purchasing a gun. The bill would also allow individuals to pursue private right of action against gun manufacturers if they become a victim of a violent act. Its companion bill, SB 5078, did pass the senate, though.

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“We must ensure that firearms dealers and manufacturers are held accountable when they fail to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous individuals,” Sen. Pedersen said. “Victims of gun violence in our state deserve access to justice. It is past time for the gun industry to face real consequences for irresponsible sales and marketing practices.”

Delaware, New York, New Jersey, and California have adopted similar legislation, and courts have upheld laws that fall under the PLCAA exception allowing for state regulation of firearm sales and marketing.

SB 5078 will now be introduced into the House for further processing.

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Significant gun legislation advances through WA Senate in tight vote