Attorney General Bob Ferguson did the state a favor this week, announcing a plan to push a ban of semi-automatic, military-style weapons like the AR-15 rifle through the state Legislature.
NO matter how many times the gun lobby says it, more guns won’t make Americans safer.
That’s especially true of semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15. America has seen again and again the lethal cost of these weapons of destruction deployed in civil society, from Newtown, Conn., to Orlando, Fla., to San Bernadino, Calif., to Umpqua Community College to Mukilteo.
Although these so-called “assault weapons,” fitted with high capacity magazines, are used in a small fraction of America’s gun homicides, they are terrifyingly powerful when deployed. Such weapons resulted in 155 percent more people shot and nearly 50 percent more people killed compared to other mass shootings, according to an analysis by the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.
America has already seen what happens when these weapons are banned. Mass shootings plunged after the 1994 federal assault-weapons ban was enacted and doubled when it expired. And those numbers were likely weakened by the federal ban’s broad loopholes and exemptions.
When Congress let the ban expire, states — as they have with one issue after another — stepped into the void. Currently, at least nine states ban or regulate so-called assault weapons. Eight states, including Colorado, limit large-capacity clips, usually defined as 10 rounds or more.
Washington should join them. Attorney General Bob Ferguson did the state a favor this week announcing a plan to push a ban of semi-automatic, military-style weapons like the AR-15 rifle through the state Legislature. His advocacy should help lawmakers have a robust conversation about the trade offs of banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
Such a law clearly would limit a constitutional right and should be carefully crafted. Ferguson and his legislative partners say his proposal would grandfather existing assault weapons, as other states have done, while limiting owners’ ability to resell the weapons.
But Second Amendment rights are not absolute. None other than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia articulated the states’ authority to impose “conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
The high court this year declined to hear — and let stand — assault-weapon bans passed by New York and Connecticut after the mass murder of 26 children and adults in Newtown. Ferguson cited those bans as potential templates for Washington state.
If lawmakers can have an honest discussion this year, they’ll find a majority of the public favors a ban. A poll commissioned by Ceasefire, a gun-control-advocacy group, found that nearly two-thirds of residents in Washington and Oregon favor banning assault rifles and big ammo clips. A national poll taken after the Orlando shooting pegged support for a ban at 57 percent.
At a news conference announcing his plans, Ferguson was flanked by the parents of Will Kramer, who was severely wounded in the July 30 Mukilteo shooting. The alleged shooter, age 19, couldn’t buy a beer, but easily bought an AR-15 model and 30-round clip, even though he was so uninformed about his weapon that he had to read the owner’s manual moments before opening fire.
In choosing to not restrict access to that lethal weapon, Washington lawmakers have made a conscious choice: The recreational pleasure of shooting such a powerful rifle is more important than the extraordinary damage and lasting pain and suffering it has wrought again and again.