A disappointingly familiar routine has played out in Olympia three years running: Attorney General Bob Ferguson proposes an assault-weapons ban, for which bills are filed in the Senate and House. Then, after moving discussion of America’s horrifying series of mass shootings, the bills quietly disappear without a floor vote in either chamber.
Enough is enough. The Legislature’s 2020 session cannot be the fourth consecutive one — and the third in which Democrats control both houses — in which lawmakers hide from a decision. America’s plague of wanton public gun violence will not solve itself. The Legislature should ban sales of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in 2020, as Ferguson has once again proposed. For the first time, Gov. Jay Inslee has joined this request; more lawmakers should follow suit.
Bans can be enacted via simple majority votes in each chamber or by throwing the question to state voters in November with a referendum bill. Either way, it’s time for a reckoning. Firearms capable of killing and injuring dozens of people in seconds, as occurred in Dayton, Ohio, in August, should not be legal for purchase. Seven states ban assault weapon sales; nine ban selling large-capacity magazines. Both lists include states that, like Washington, have robust outdoor cultures. This common-sense reform would do nothing to prohibit the enjoyment of hunting traditions handed down across generations of Washington families, nor would it be a foot in the door toward widespread confiscations.
These bans would constitute a measured response to one of the great tragedies of our times. Washington cannot wait for federal action. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, remains a steadfast roadblock to sensible gun control even as innocent victims are slaughtered in mass shootings in America’s schools, churches and public spaces. In the face of inaction, states are right to take charge. Any lawmaker worth holding office ought to do everything reasonable to protect constituents during the modern mass-shooting epidemic.
Yet in Washington, crucial gun reform has proved elusive despite perennial evidence the public wants it. In 2014, 59.2% of state voters authorized expanded background checks. In 2016, 69.4% voted to authorize extreme risk protection orders to remove guns from troubled people. And in 2018, 59.4% backed Initiative 1639’s restrictions on gun sales, storage requirements and background-check mandate.
Even the strong mandate won by I-1639 encountered elected officials’ obstinance on gun control. More than a dozen county sheriffs said postelection that they decline to carry out parts of the law voters enacted. Despite Ferguson’s outreach attempts, the impasse persists while a federal lawsuit percolates against the initiative.
But enforcement difficulty is no excuse for state legislators to ignore — again — their job to enact meaningful and necessary laws. Washington should restrict the most dangerous weapons before more lives are lost. The Legislature must either take the lead on gun control or get out of the way of a citizenry demanding better protection.