Attorney General Bob Ferguson says he will propose legislation to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Spurred by the recent killings of three teenagers in Mukilteo, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson will propose legislation next year to ban the sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines in Washington.
Ferguson announced his proposal Wednesday, flanked by the parents of a fourth Mukilteo victim, who was seriously injured, as well as dozens of Democratic legislators and officials.
The legislation, which has not yet been written, would ban semi-automatic assault-style weapons — like the AR-15 rifle that police say was used by the 19-year-old accused gunman in Mukilteo in July — as well as any magazine that holds more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
“Military-style weapons are designed for killing people,” Ferguson said. “These weapons have no place in civilian use.”
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Ferguson and other speakers noted repeatedly that the accused Mukilteo shooter bought the rifle legally but wasn’t old enough to buy a beer.
Ferguson, who is up for re-election this fall, acknowledged that an assault-weapons ban would be difficult to pass. Several other recent gun-control measures have failed in the Legislature.
“I do not propose bills that I do not think I can pass,” he said. “Will this be hard? You bet. Will the gun lobby engage on this issue? Absolutely.”
Dr. Liz Raemont, whose 18-year-old son Will Kramer was seriously injured in the Mukilteo shooting, spending 17 days in the hospital, called it a “disgrace and insanity” that assault-style weapons are legal.
“They are weapons of choice for our country’s mass-murderers. These guns are not used in self-defense,” Raemont said.
Similar weapons were used in high-profile mass shootings in Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; San Bernardino, Calif., Dallas and Orlando, among others.
Dave Workman, senior editor of The Gun Mag, a publication of the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, said that rifles of any kind are used in a very small percentage of homicides — fewer than 4 percent in Washington in 2014, according to FBI data.
“We’re talking about one 19-year-old kid who is now charged with that crime and thousands and tens of thousands of people who own these guns in Washington state who haven’t hurt anybody,” Workman said.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole urged the Legislature to act.
“Individuals should not have easy access to assault weapons,” O’Toole said. “This would be a wonderful prevention tool.”
Congress passed a nationwide ban on assault weapons in 1994, but it expired in 2004. Currently, seven states and the District of Columbia have some form of assault-weapon ban, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said the governor, who voted for the 1994 assault-weapons ban while in Congress, supported Ferguson’s proposal in concept.
“The governor has a record of supporting this type of thing,” Smith said. “The attorney general’s proposal is one of many things that we should all be looking at to reduce gun violence.”
Bill Bryant, Inslee’s Republican challenger, said he would have to wait to see how “assault weapon” is defined before saying if he would support a ban. He said the state needed to focus on its mental-health system and noted there is already a ban on automatic weapons.
In a June interview with The Seattle Times, Bryant said he did not support bringing back the federal ban on assault weapons.
“We have strong protections in Washington state,” Bryant said in June. “We have strong background checks. I’m comfortable where we are right now.”
Recent efforts to strengthen gun laws in the Legislature have stalled.
A push for universal background checks on gun sales failed in 2013, before passing by ballot initiative the next year. A proposal to take guns from people deemed a danger to themselves or others — following a court hearing — got nowhere in the Legislature, but is on the ballot this year as Initiative 1491.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, accused Ferguson of “using state resources to promote himself in an election year.”
Schoesler said the definition of “military style” was too vague and would prove unworkable, and said the focus should be on enforcing existing gun laws.
State Sen. David Frockt, a Seattle Democrat who will work with Ferguson to write the legislation, said they would look to other states that have passed similar laws when drafting the bill to ensure its constitutionality. Five of the seven states that ban assault weapons do so by explicitly listing names and types of banned guns.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review challenges to assault weapons bans in New York and Connecticut, allowing the bans to stand. The court had previously allowed an assault-weapons ban in a Chicago suburb to stand.
Frockt emphasized that assault weapons owned prior to a bill’s passage would be grandfathered in, but could not be sold or transferred.