OLYMPIA — Legislation requested by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson banning the sale of high-capacity gun magazines has received a go-ahead from the state Senate, gaining support from 24th District Sen. Kevin Van De Wege and setting up a potential battle with the National Rifle Association.
SB 5078, passed by the Senate on Wednesday, was referred Saturday to the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee. A committee public hearing will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday and an executive session to consider passing it out of committee at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
The law would prohibit the sale, attempted sale and distribution of clips with more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Large-capacity magazine owners grandfathered in would face restrictions on the sale or transfer of the magazines under the new bill. Anyone found to be violating the law could be charged with a gross misdemeanor. Van De Wege and 24th District Reps. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles and Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend, all Democrats, said last week they support the bill.
It advanced to the House along partisan boundaries, with 28 Democrats in favor, 19 Republicans opposed and Democrat Tim Sheldon, who caucuses with the GOP, opposed.
“You could legitimately say it was a party-line vote,” Van De Wege said.
Public testimony was split, 26 in favor and 24 opposed, according to the Senate bill report (www.leg.wa.gov) that describes the legislation.
Of those who signed up to testify and did not, about 125 were in favor and about 100 opposed.
Van De Wege said he was in the anti-magazine restrictions camp the last four times the legislation was proposed. He changed his mind after concerns about magazine possession were met by Ferguson, and as the legislation, which never made it to a Senate floor vote until last week, evolved.
“There’s a lot of rhetoric around it and stuff, but (SB 5078) has nothing to do with possession, only the sale,” Van De Wege said Friday.
“You can go to another state, buy (high-capacity magazines) and bring them back in. All of that is allowed. It is only about the sale.”
The law (www.leg.wa.gov) establishes safety measures “to increase public safety by prohibiting the manufacture, possession, distribution, importation, selling, offering for sale, purchasing, or transfer of large capacity magazines, by allowing continued possession of large capacity magazines limited to possession prior to, and inheritance on or after, the effective date of this act,” according to the bill report.
Possession is allowed solely on the owner’s property, while a person is engaged in a lawful outdoor recreational activity, while shooting it at a licensed shooting range, and when transporting the magazines to and from those locations.
Violation of the law is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Those exempt from the restrictions include corrections officers, military members, licensed firearms dealers, licensed gunsmiths, persons engaged in sport shooting and law enforcement officers.
Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith said laws are already on the books to combat gun violence and that the law does nothing to stop criminals from possessing high-capacity magazines.
“Criminal offenders will continue to be unrestricted, so this will not affect them at all,” he said.
The NRA-ILA, the lobbying arm for the National Rifle Association, opposed the legislation Thursday on its website (www.nraila.org).
“Now, more than ever, NRA Members and Second Amendment supporters need to contact their representative in opposition to this measure,” the organization said.
The group did not respond Friday to a request for an interview.
Chapman said mass shootings are fueling efforts.
“I think there’s a sense that we just need, we’ve got to try, to do something,” he said.
“You can say that this (legislation) won’t change anything.”
He said SB 5078 is a small step toward stopping gun violence.
“We as a society accept weapons of war in people’s hands,” Chapman said. “I don’t know why we’ve accepted that as a society, but we do.”
He said the 24th District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and half of Grays Harbor County, is probably evenly split on the bill.
“This is a good bill, and I will probably end up voting for it,” he said.
The House has 57 Democrats and 41 Republicans.
“I think this has a good chance to get to the governor’s desk,” Tharinger said Friday.
“It came out of the Senate, and that’s a trickier chamber on some of this stuff.”
There’s logic in the bill, he said.
“It’s kind of common sense, right? When you’re hunting, you don’t use multiple [bullet] magazines.
“It’s just that there are more and more people whose lives are impacted by mass shootings” with high-capacity magazines, Tharinger said.
“How long do we allow this to keep happening?”
Nine states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting or restricting high-capacity magazines, often defined as accepting more than 15 rounds.
Some states ban their manufacture, transfer or possession. Others, with laws like SB 5078, exempt magazines possessed prior to the restrictions’ effective date.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at email@example.com.