Gun control advocates in Washington have a fight on their hands

Jan 16, 2018, 10:30 AM | Updated: 12:16 pm
Bump stock, gun control...
(AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File)
(AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File)

Gun control advocates are hoping the shift in the balance of power in Olympia can help them get a handful of new gun laws passed this session.

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It’s clear they’re still in for a fight with Republicans, the NRA, and other gun-rights groups.

A hearing in the Senate Law and Justice Committee on five gun safety bills, including a ban on bump stocks, limits on high capacity magazines, enhanced background checks for assault weapons, new laws requiring safe storage of guns, and undoing what’s known as the state preemption law, which allows cities and counties to make their own gun regulations.

The hearing drew a crowd of approximately 1,000 people, with hundreds signing up to have their say. Some of the most passionate testimony was about the proposed ban on bump stocks — a modification that allows some semi-automatic rifles to fire more rapidly. It was a modification used during the Las Vegas massacre last summer that left 58 people dead.

“The bump-stock modification on the AR-15 that murdered Carrie [a Seattle resident] increased the gun’s rate of fire to nine rounds per second. Thinks of that. A 30-round magazine could be emptied in just over three seconds. Nobody stood a chance,” Carrie’s sister, Ann-Marie Parsons, said.

Parsons begged lawmakers to pass the bump stock ban, enhanced background checks on assault weapons, and limits on high-capacity magazines; as did Emily Cantrell and Kyle Helms, a Seattle couple who survived the Vegas shooting.

“Assault weapons took multiple lives that night. I did my best to keep one of the victims alive, but he was shot in the heart, and although he was conscious he did not make it in the end,” said Helms.

Cantrell described the terror of the experience.

“We were sitting ducks with no way to fight back. We ran. We dived. And with each new round of bullets pouring down on us my emotions changed from being scared to having complete hatred to whoever was doing this, to wondering when we were all going to die.”

Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell testified in support of the bills, suggesting the enhanced background checks on assault weapons could have made a difference in the 2016 Mukilteo house party shooting, that killed three teens and severely injured a fourth.

“It should not have been so easy for this angry 19-year-old to purchase an assault rifle. An assault rifle that he didn’t intend to use for hunting animals. It was an assault rifle that he used with the intention of hunting humans, and that’s exactly what he did. It certainly should not have been easier for the gunman in that case to buy a rifle than it was for him to purchase a firearm.”

But those testifying in favor of the new bans and limits were met with equal force from those against the proposals. That included Alan Gottlieb with Bellevue-based Citizens for the Right To Keep and Bear Arms, who says they all go too far — even the bump stock ban.

“This bill prohibits possession of so-called trigger devices that allegedly increase the rate of fire of some semi-automatic firearms. While the bill references bump stocks, it goes far beyond those devices.”

Gottlieb says the proposal to ban the sale of new magazines that hold more than 10 rounds is also an overreach.

“The greater impact of the magazine ban would be on handgun owners. More than half a million Washington residents are licensed to carry a concealed handgun for their personal protection and the preferred firearm is a semi-automatic pistol. The most popular selling handguns these days almost all have capacity magazines over 10 rounds.”

An NRA rep who showed up echoed those criticisms.

Gottlieb and that representative spoke against the bill to undo the state preemption law, which would let cities and counties come up with their own regulations, and a safe storage bill, which would require gun owners to keep their weapons locked up to keep kids and criminals from getting a hold of them. If a person not allowed to have a gun gets a hold of it and uses it in a crime the gun owner could be charged and sued.

The ban on bump stocks is the only one of the five bills with any Republican co-sponsors.

It’s not clear right now whether any will make it all the way to the governor’s desk. Democrats have just a one-vote majority in the Senate and two votes in the House. At least one Democratic Representative Brian Blake tells The Seattle Times he’s against all the bills.

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Gun control advocates in Washington have a fight on their hands