Gun violence killed more than 20,000 Americans in 2021, according to the Gun Violence Archive. It was a deadly year across the country, and early data suggests that Washington was no exception, building on what was already a record-breaking 2020.
There are no easy answers to address the surge, but the Legislature must show that it can be part of the solution by passing common-sense bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
For an unbelievable five consecutive sessions, lawmakers have failed to act on these viable proposals, with legislation dying before even reaching a floor vote in the House or the Senate, both controlled by Democrats.
Assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, commonly defined as magazines holding more than 10 rounds, have been used in some of the deadliest U.S. shootings, including at a Las Vegas concert in 2017, where 60 people died, and the 2019 El Paso Walmart shooting that claimed 23 lives.
“I just don’t understand when people say, ‘well, that’s not going to really get at all the gun violence.’ Of course, it’s not,” said Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “But it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel if we can’t even get bills like these across the finish line in Olympia.”
Ferguson has been pushing for these bans for years and believes that restrictions on high-capacity magazines are within reach this session. He points to the changing makeup of the Legislature, including the exit of legislation opponent Sen. Steve Hobbs to become secretary of state. There is also the recent decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld California’s ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines.
Nine states and the District of Columbia already ban high-capacity magazines, and seven federal courts of appeal have upheld the laws. There is no reason for Washington not to follow.
High-capacity magazines are often used in mass shootings because they reduce the need for the shooter to stop and reload. No outdoor fun, no afternoon at the gun range, will be disrupted by prohibiting devices that have little function beyond making it easier to kill.
Washingtonians have consistently shown they support gun reform. In 2014, almost 60% of voters authorized expanded background checks. In 2016, almost 70% voted to allow family members and law enforcement to petition a court to remove guns from troubled people. In 2018, nearly 60% supported Initiative 1639’s set of firearms regulations, including raising the legal purchase age of a semiautomatic rifle to 21.
While Republican lawmakers share some of the responsibility for why these proposals have failed, continued Democratic control of the Legislature makes it harder to blame the GOP.
Democrats have so far avoided forcing some of their colleagues in swing districts to make a tough vote, but lawmakers can’t be allowed to hide forever — not when their inaction could cost people their lives.