What will it take for the Washington Legislature to finally enact a reasonable ban on high-powered firearms that can hurt massive numbers of people?
Bills to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in the state appear dead for a fifth straight year. Is it going to take a killing spree as Atlanta saw two weeks ago, or a mass shooting like the one in Boulder, Colorado, Monday?
It should not. This state has seen enough of its own carnage. Our communities, families and residents have been slain — repeatedly — by gun violence and anger run amok.
Yet a perennial advocate for sensible state gun control, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, is exasperated by lawmakers’ repeated failures to act.
“These bills may only pass when we have an event in Washington state similar to what just happened in Boulder,” Ferguson said ruefully. “That’s a sad commentary, but I’m reaching the point where I believe that is what will need to happen before they act. Otherwise, I’m not sure what else they’re waiting for.”
But Washington already has its share of mass shootings. The list within the last decade includes: five dead at Burlington’s Cascade Mall in 2016, three dead in a Mukilteo party in 2016, four dead at Marysville Pilchuck High School in 2014, five dead in a Federal Way apartment complex in 2013, and four dead in Seattle’s Cafe Racer in 2012.
Ten people shot to death in a Boulder grocery store ought not feel very distant. It should jolt consciences anew.
President Joe Biden is right: it is beyond time for Congress to reenact the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that lapsed in 2004. National action is by far the best way for the only country so frequently plagued with mass gun killings to respond.
While these specific weapons aren’t involved in every mass shooting, consider: America’s 10 deadliest shooting sprees of the past decade involved high-capacity magazines, which hold anywhere from 10 to 100 rounds to enable rapid firing.
Washington’s lawmakers must stop waiting for the congressional logjam to break and protect their own constituents. But both the House and Senate this year failed to pass bills to impose good-sense restrictions on obtaining rapid-fire assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. The many Washingtonians who love hunting would be unaffected in their recreation. The bills would have allowed people who lawfully have these weapons today to keep them.
This is bipartisan indolence, over years. Even though Democrats who favor gun control run both chambers, leaders failed to bring any of the bills to a vote. In 2020, Republicans scuttled a House vote on a large-capacity magazine ban by proposing 120 amendments for time-consuming debate.
The failures at the state and federal levels to restrict purchases of the most destructive firearms available to civilians must end.
It’s not too late for Washington state. Before the end of this year’s session, the Legislature should revive and enact the stalled bills. This would require an extraordinary — but not unprecedented — maneuver to get around policy deadlines. But extreme gun violence is too commonplace in America to let action wait another year.
Voting in these restrictions could save lives from random tragedy by keeping mayhem from unfolding rapidly. A killer who has to stop to reload provides a valuable opportunity for law enforcement to intervene.
Washington needs no more tragedy. Legislators should do the right thing for public safety, or let the people decide it on the November ballot. Ferguson said he plans to propose the same restrictions yet again in 2022. It should not take so long for good sense to prevail.
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