In each of the last four years, some state lawmakers have blocked the path of firearms laws that would make Washington a safer place. Lawmakers must now get it right and approve bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Washington should finally join the growing list of states that prohibit these potentially destructive devices.
Nine other states, including California, have laws against high-capacity magazines, generally defined as holding 10, 15 or more rounds, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. These accessories enable mass killers to inflict immense harm without pausing to reload. Such magazines played a role in each of the 10 deadliest mass shootings of the last decade. The tragic list includes a Las Vegas concert in 2017, when 58 people died, and a nightclub in Dayton, Ohio, in 2019, when nine died and 27 more were wounded.
Both killers used 100-round magazines — which, shockingly, remain legal in Washington to this day.
Assault weapons are military-style guns that ought not be in public circulation. No gun range afternoon or big-game hunt is worth the danger posed by making combat weapons widely available. A 10-year federal prohibition, which expired in 2004, saw a drastic drop in mass shooting rates. Congress should reenact the prohibition but has stalled for so long that seven states banned assault weapons themselves.
Washington Legislature’s failure to enact these bans last year occurred despite other sensible gun reforms passing. Creation of a state Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention survived intense debate, and stronger background checks and a ban on guns in child-care facilities became law in 2020.
But absurd legislative game-playing stopped the high-capacity magazine limit. House Republicans attached 120 amendments to one bill, and the chamber’s Democratic leadership pulled it from consideration rather than spend hours on the floor in a circular debate.
That sorry spectacle must not be repeated. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is right to push yet again to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons. Lawmakers have wisely advanced the issues separately this year. A combined bill offered last year provided a large target for opposition.
If 2021 brings post-pandemic safety to resume public gatherings, it should also bring gun reforms that will curtail the menace of mass violence. Lawmakers should enact these reforms, or approve a referendum to let the people decide the issue at the ballot box.