The Washington Legislature failed to pass meaningful new gun laws; the people should vote on an assault-weapons ban.

Share story

Continual mass shootings have boosted people’s fear of gun violence to an all-time high, but Washington lawmakers have failed again to act on sensible gun control.

As organizers for the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., expect a half a million demonstrating Saturday against mass shootings, that cowardice is not only frustrating, it is untenable.

March for Our Lives reports that 836 march events are planned worldwide. Washington citizens should also join the push toward a national ban by proposing an initiative for the ballot. Six other states already ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 and large capacity magazines: California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. Hawaii bans the sale of some assault weapons.

“On these issues, the people are way ahead of the politicians, just like they were for marriage equality,” said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. He has repeatedly asked the Legislature to pass an assault-weapons ban and limit the sale of large-capacity magazines.

Such a move would not prevent every mass shooting, but it could save lives. A ban on the semi-automatic tactical weapons sales could have saved three lives in Mukilteo in 2016 when a 19-year-old purchased a military-style assault rifle and killed his three former classmates, and injured another.

Neither chamber of the Democratic-controlled Legislature took a vote this year on bills to limit sales of the semi-automatic rifles. Lawmakers did pass a minimal new gun-regulation proposal, a ban on trigger devices known as bump stocks.

State voters appear willing to go much further, without limiting the rights of hunters to own and use rifles. The statewide Elway poll found last November that 53 percent of voters felt it was more important to control gun violence than protect gun-owner rights. Soon after the Las Vegas massacre, a statewide EMC Research poll found 65 percent of participants wanted new laws that “heavily restrict access to semi-automatic firearms.”

While the Legislature has been reluctant to approve most gun-regulation proposals, voters passed by wide margins a ballot measure to expand gun-purchase background checks in 2014 (59.2 percent) and one authorizing extreme-risk protection orders in 2016 (69.4 percent) to help people remove guns from the hands of violent or despondent people.

Those who question the constitutionality of gun regulations should listen to the state’s top lawyer. AG Ferguson points out the courts have upheld other states’ assault-weapons restrictions.

The Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the Washington group that successfully sponsored previous gun initiatives, should put another on the ballot banning semi-automatic rifles and large capacity magazines.

Geoff Potter, program and policy director for the alliance, says the group is still deciding what its next step will be.

He notes that the National Rifle Association was a strong presence in Olympia this year, but the Democratic leaders should be blamed for the Legislature’s failure to pass gun laws people wanted because they wouldn’t bring proposals to a vote. Supporters believed the bills had enough votes to pass.

The voters should let their lawmakers know they are disappointed the Legislature didn’t vote on sensible gun legislation and then get ready to engage candidates for office on this issue this summer and fall. Don’t let inertia win.

Information in this article, originally published March 21, 2018, was corrected March 22, 2018. A previous version of this story misidentified Geoff Potter. He is the program and policy director for the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.