Lawmakers clash over gun legislation amid discussion on mass shootings

By Taylor McAvoy

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers introduced a multitude of bills early this 2018 session on issues of gun regulation to address the multiple incidences of gun violence in the nation.

More than 10 firearm bills were introduced and led to heated debate throughout January. Four still have a chance to become law, having passed the cutoff deadline of Feb. 14.

“We are not doing nearly enough to regulate access to weapons designed to cause mass casualties. We can do better if we choose to do better,” Gov. Jay Inslee wrote in a news release Feb. 15, the day after news broke about a 19-year-old who opened fire at a high school in Florida killing 17 people.

“Thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, sponsor of two gun regulation bills that missed their deadline in the senate, wrote in a news release.

Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, at a press conference Feb. 15, said that placing more laws on guns would not make schools safer. The Legislature, he said, should instead focus on funding school programs for armed guards at schools, training teachers to handle weapons and allowing school districts to decide for themselves what policy works best for them.

“This is not a gun issue, this is a mental health issue,” Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said at the conference, suggesting that lawmakers focus more on comprehensive mental health bills than gun regulations.

Washington state has had three notable deadly shootings in recent years. One was in October 2014 at Marysville Pilchuck High School when a student killed four other students and himself. Another was in September 2017 when a student from Freeman High School killed a classmate and wounded three others.

The shooting at the Cascade Mall in Burlington in September 2016 drew national attention when a man opened fire killing five people.

On Friday, Highline College in Des Moines reported hearing shots fired. In a scare after the shooting in Florida, students hid in classrooms until police arrived. They found no evidence of shots fired or weapons on campus.

Four gun bills passed one chamber before the Feb. 14 deadline.

Nearly two-thirds, or 62 percent, of firearm deaths in the U.S. are suicides, according to data from Everytown for Gun Safety.

SB 5553, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, would allow a person at risk of suicide to voluntarily give up their rights to own a firearm. The bill allows a person to restore their firearm rights after seven days.

Amid concerns that the waiver could be used against someone in employment or health services, lawmakers added amendments. The bill now prohibits employers or health care providers from using the waiver as a term of employment or service. The waivers are also exempt from the Public Records Act and they must be destroyed after someone restores their firearm rights.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously Jan. 24. It is currently being considered for a vote in the House of Representatives.

SB 5992, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, bans bump-fire stocks or the use of a firearm containing a bump stock. The bill makes owning, selling or manufacturing a bump stock in Washington state a felony.

Two survivors of a shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas in which the shooter reportedly used bump stocks, Emily Cantrell and Kyle Helms, gave emotional testimony during the bill’s public hearing in January.

Several people opposed the bill on the grounds that bump stocks help people with disabilities protect themselves by enabling them to use a weapon.

The bill passed the Senate on Jan. 25 with a 29-20 vote. It is currently being considered for a vote in the House of Representatives.

Van De Wege represents Legislative District 24, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

SB 6298, sponsored by Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, adds convictions for domestic violence harassment to the list of crimes for which a person can be prohibited from owning a firearm.

“This really ensures that we are holding all perpetrators of domestic violence equally accountable,” Dhingra said during floor debate Feb. 9. “It is a crime where we see a lot of lethality for women involved.”

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane, said during the debate that he is concerned that domestic violence harassment is too broadly defined and someone could be too easily accused of the crime.

The bill passed the Senate with a 34-13 vote Feb. 9. It is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Judiciary Committee today and for an executive session in that committee on Thursday.

HB 2519, sponsored by Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, would require law enforcement agencies to delay returning a concealed weapon permit that has been taken or surrendered until they run a background check and decide the person meets requirements of the license.

Current state law requires law enforcement to return a surrendered firearm in a timely manner but also requires officers to run a background check and allows a delay of up to four days.

Capt. Greg Lineberry oversees property and evidence functions at the Everett Police Department. He said at the bill’s hearing in January that this legislation is simply a technical fix to ensure the Concealed Pistol License return law is the same as the firearms return law. Current law says that a person applying for the license who is subject to a court order is ineligible to obtain a firearm or to receive one that has been taken until the order expires. The proposed bill would include concealed pistol licenses in this statute.

The bill passed the House of Representatives with a 94-4 vote Feb. 14. It awaits a hearing in the Senate.

Five gun bills that were highly discussed this session did not make it past the cutoff deadline but could be reintroduced in the 2019 legislative session.

SB 6415, sponsored by Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, and its companion bill in the House, HB 2738, would have prohibited a person from carrying concealed firearm on private property without permission.

SB 6049, sponsored by Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, and its companion bill in the House, HB 2422, would have banned large capacity magazines of more than 10 rounds. Opponents argued that most standard capacity guns already have that capacity and the ban is overbroad.

SB 5444, also sponsored by Frockt, and its companion bill in the House, HB 1387, were both introduced last year by request of state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. This bill would have enhanced background checks for assault weapons to make them consistent with current laws for purchasing a handgun. That requires background checks with both state and federal agencies.

SB 5463, sponsored by Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby, and its companion in the House, HB 1122, would have mandated rules for safe storage of firearms and would require a seller to offer to sell or give someone who buys a gun, a locked storage case.

SB 6146, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, and its companion in the House, HB 2666 would have given cities and counties the ability to regulate their own gun laws.


This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.