OLYMPIA — The Washington House has voted to prohibit the sale, importation, distribution and manufacture of firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, marking a major victory for supporters of stricter gun laws as the bill now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.
Senate Bill 5078 not only puts limits on magazines for semiautomatic rifles with 20 or 30 rounds, but also for many pistols, which often carry more than 10 rounds.
The legislation does not prohibit possession of such magazines.
The bill’s passage late Friday — lawmakers approved it 55-42 in the Democratic-held House — marks perhaps the biggest win at the Legislature in recent years for advocates of gun regulations. Inslee supports the measure, and has described it as “designed to save lives.”
Voters last decade passed a trio of statewide initiatives imposing sweeping firearms restrictions. Those included an expansion of gun-purchase background checks, creation of the extreme risk protection order and safe-storage provisions to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands.
But ambitious firearms regulations such as limits on magazines have stalled for years in Olympia.
In a floor speech Friday night, Rep. Liz Berry, D-Seattle, recounted the mass shooting in 2011 during an event held by then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona, for whom Berry worked at the time. Six people died in that attack, and 13 others, including Giffords, who was shot in the head, were injured.
“Gun violence is preventable, this bill will save lives,” Berry said, recounting how one of her friends died in the shooting. “I am voting yes tonight for Gabby, I am voting yes tonight for Gabe [Zimmerman, Giffords’ community outreach director who was killed], and I am voting yes tonight for all the people whose lives are impacted by gun violence in our communities.”
The House vote Friday fell along party lines, with nearly all Democrats voting to support the bill. Republicans voted against it, and in a show of protest, forced the Democrats to spend hours debating amendments to the legislation.
“It is clear that the bill before us now impairs the right of the individual citizen to bear arms,” Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, said during the debate. Young was one of the GOP lawmakers who blocked the limits on magazines two years ago by sponsoring scores of amendments, leaving Democrats to shelve that proposal.
Among other critiques, Republicans have also assailed the bill as a hindrance for people who might need to use a firearm for self-defense.
Sponsored by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, SB 5078 was requested by Attorney General Bob Ferguson. It passed the Senate last month. In a statement issued after the vote, Ferguson said Washington would join nine states that “already restrict high-capacity magazines.”
The ban on distributing magazines with more than 10 rounds includes both online orders and commerce in stores, according to a legislative analysis.
Meanwhile, the prohibition on importing such magazines does not include situations where an individual who already possesses one is bringing that magazine back into Washington from another state.
Violations would be a gross misdemeanor, which in Washington can bring up to 364 days in county jail or a maximum fine of $5,000,
Additionally, the legislation makes the sale or offering for distribution or sale of a prohibited magazine a violation of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act.
That’s a law used by the Attorney General’s Office, which can — on behalf of state residents — take action on alleged violations of the act to get restitution and civil penalties.
The legislation includes exceptions to magazine limits for law enforcement and corrections officers, members of the armed forces, Washington’s National Guard, and for licensed firearms dealers that sell to such institutions.
Two Democrats voted against the bill: Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, and Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley, a Democrat from Southeast Seattle.
Friday night’s House debate also put on display a rare division between progressive lawmakers. Harris-Talley proposed an amendment — which was voted down — that would have loosened the bill to allow pistol magazines to hold as many as 15 rounds.
In a floor speech, she described herself as an advocate for gun responsibility, but said she’s gotten a lot of pushback from her constituents in the 37th Legislative District, which she described as unique both for its diversity and the historical presence of a chapter of the Black Panther Party.
“I have many neighbors concerned about this bill,” Harris-Talley said, adding later: “They want to know that in the face of police violence and gun violence, and other types of white supremacy … that they can protect themselves.”
Rep. David Hackney, D-Tukwila, rose to speak against Harris-Talley’s amendment, saying he understood those concerns.
“The idea that more guns and more ammunition make people safer is ludicrous,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect name for the man who died in the 2011 Arizona shooting.