With the Legislature’s session near its scheduled end, lawmakers have failed to pass long-needed restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Partisan resistance to even modest reform runs so deep that House Republicans in February resorted to parliamentary theatrics to derail a vote.
Because this intransigence persists, lawmakers who support reasonable gun control should ask state voters to weigh in. If House Bill 2947 to ban high-capacity magazines and establish a buyback program is roadblocked like earlier bills, lawmakers should vote to put gun control directly onto the ballot.
The Legislature can do this with a referendum bill. Such a move would save gun-control supporters the time and expense of filing a citizens’ initiative — and give lawmakers control over the extent of the ballot measure.
Majorities of state voters have repeatedly shown in recent years a willingness to pass significant gun reforms, approving background checks in 2014, extreme risk protection orders in 2016 and restrictions on semi-automatic rifles in 2018. State Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Seattle, said a citizens’ initiative for a new ban might be its best path after her proposal to set a 10-round limit on gun magazines did not get to the Senate floor this year.
“The people are ahead of the Legislature on this issue,” Kuderer said.
She and Rep. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle, each sponsored meaningful gun-control bills this session, as did other lawmakers. In interviews, both said they had not explored filing a referendum bill to send a gun measure to voters this fall, despite years of repeated legislative failures to pass the assault weapons and high-capacity magazine bans proposed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson and endorsed by this editorial board.
Valdez said he drafted HB 2947 in response to the excessive amendment proposals that stalled an earlier bill to ban high-capacity magazines. House Democrats withdrew HB 2240 rather than debate an astronomical 123 attached amendments — more than 50 from Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, alone. Under House rules allowing fair debate, discussion of the amendments could have consumed days.
HB 2947 provides a second chance to move this reform toward law. Like the earlier bill, HB 2947 would ban transfers of gun magazines that could hold more than 15 rounds. It would also set up state buyback of unwanted high-capacity magazines, funded by ending a tax exemption for sales of gold and other precious metals that dates from 1985. Lawmakers should reexamine whether handcuffing a common-sense gun reform to the elimination of an unrelated, and business-boosting, tax break is sound policy.
Gun violence remains an urgent nationwide problem in American society, and large-capacity magazines frequently play roles in mass shootings. The nonprofit Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence found magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition were used in all 10 of the deadliest mass shootings of the last decade, including those in Las Vegas and Dayton, Ohio.
Because Congress is riven by extreme partisanship on gun issues, no federal limit on high-capacity magazines is likely soon. Nine states and Washington, D.C., have banned large-capacity magazines. Washington state needs to join this list.
The Legislature should get this issue before the voting public rather than allowing procedural trench warfare to waste more time.