Assault rifle ban waits, targeted gun restrictions advance

  • Monday, March 4, 2019 1:30am
  • News

By Tom James

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Democrats in the state Legislature are advancing new targeted gun restrictions, but so far their broadest measure — a ban on assault weapons — has stalled.

As of last Tuesday, restrictions aimed at domestic violence perpetrators, individuals found incompetent to stand trial, and subjects of restraining or protective orders had all moved toward full-chamber votes in the Legislature, along with a proposal restricting undetectable plastic guns.

But only one major proposal for a new restriction that would apply broadly to all gun owners, rather than singling out a specific group, had made it as far: A proposed ban on high-capacity magazines.

The embrace of narrower rules follows a national trend, which has seen gun control advocates turn to proposals including limiting certain types of gun modifications, requiring extra training for concealed weapons carriers, and especially extreme risk protection orders, which allow courts or police to remove guns based on perceived risk.

“There has not been much that’s been sweeping, broad changes in gun law in the states,” said Robert Spitzer, a professor at the State University of New York who studies gun policy. “Political palatability is the critical factor at play.”

Nationwide, extreme risk protection orders especially have become popular: At least 13 states have passed such laws, including nine since 2016, according to the National conference of State Legislatures.

The laws have an intuitive appeal because they leave rights for ordinary gun owners largely untouched, Spitzer said.

In Washington, committee chairs decide which bills are heard, and this year all are Democrats, putting gun policy in the state squarely under Democratic control.

“Whenever you have a more broad piece of legislation dealing with gun restrictions, you are going to have more challenges,” said Sen. Patty Kuderer, a Bellevue Democrat and sponsor of the assault weapons ban in the Senate.

The assault weapons ban is unlikely to go further this year, Kuderer said, in part due to concerns that it might conflict with I-1639, the 2018 initiative raising the age limit and adding other restrictions for assault rifles in the state.

But even without the conflict, she added, it likely would have faced tougher opposition because of its breadth.

Sen. Manka Dhingra, a Redmond Democrat, said more narrowly-tailored restrictions appeal not only to gun control proponents, but also to some gun owners.

“They themselves don’t want someone who has a history of violence to have a gun,” Dhingra said.

Dhingra has introduced measures to temporarily remove guns found by police responding to domestic violence incidents, prohibit undetectable or untraceable firearms, and remove guns from people found incompetent to stand trial.

Senate Republican minority leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville signaled openness to efforts linked to domestic violence, but objected to changes affecting all gun owners.

If the assault weapons ban fails this year, it would be the seventh time it had fallen short. Despite at first being a central proposal of Senate Democrats, it has repeatedly failed to advance beyond early hearings, even after Democrats took control of both chambers of the Legislature in 2018.

Along with the ban, a handful of other gun-related bills appeared to be lagging behind Tuesday, days after a key legislative deadline, including proposals to repeal existing restrictions including safe storage rules, stiffen sentences for crimes committed with body armor, and change retention rules for evidence guns.

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