Washington became the 10th state to prohibit sales of AR-15s and dozens of other semi-automatic rifles Tuesday, as Gov. Jay Inslee signed the ban into law, effective immediately.
The state Capitol was closed to the public Tuesday morning for the signing ceremony out of security concerns, though only a handful of protesters gathered outside.
“These weapons of war, assault weapons, have no reason other than mass murder,” Inslee said at the ceremony in the ornate State Reception Room, flanked by lawmakers and people who’d lost loved ones to gun violence. “Their only purpose is to kill humans as rapidly as possible in large numbers.”
The gun ban signed by Inslee, which stacks atop a bundle of gun restrictions adopted over the past several years in Washington, is aimed at high-powered rifles that have been used to carry out the worst mass shootings across the U.S.
Inslee on Tuesday also signed into law two other major gun measures, including a 10-day waiting period for firearm purchases and a bill that would hold gunmakers liable for negligent sales.
Supporters of the ban and other restrictions in Washington said they will help prevent some mass shootings, or at least lower the death tolls, while also reducing other instances of gun violence and suicide.
Opponents called the ban an unconstitutional infringement of the rights of law-abiding gun owners and immediately filed a lawsuit seeking to have it struck down.
The federal lawsuit, filed by the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation and other opponents, contends the law signed by Inslee “has criminalized one of the most common and important means by which its citizens can exercise their fundamental right to self-defense.”
The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the ban.
The national Firearm Industry Trade Association also condemned Inslee for signing the law banning what it called “Modern Sporting Rifles” and vowed to sue to overturn it.
“Governor Inslee and Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson put politics ahead of their duty to defend the Constitution and protect the rights of their citizens,” Lawrence Keane, the trade group’s senior vice president and general counsel, said in a statement.
The measure signed by Inslee, House Bill 1240, bans the sale, transfer, distribution, manufacture and importation of 62 gun models the law defines as “assault weapons,” including AR-15s, AK-47s and similar rifles.
It also bans guns with specified features, including semi-automatic rifles shorter than 30 inches, those that have detachable magazines or fixed magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds, and those with detachable magazines that are also equipped with features such as flash suppressors, folding stocks or shrouded barrels. Also banned are conversion kits and parts that would allow such features to be added to guns.
The ban, which makes violations a gross misdemeanor, applies only to new sales, not to firearms people already own. The law also exempts people who inherit guns that are subject to the ban. It also allows sales by licensed firearm dealers to law enforcement agencies and the military.
The bill included an emergency clause making it take effect immediately upon Inslee’s signature, which came just before 11 a.m.
Ferguson and state Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, noted 2023 was the seventh year in a row they’d sponsored legislation seeking to ban AR-15s and similar weapons.
For many years, the proposal languished in the Legislature, with significant opposition even among Democrats.
“To be honest there were times when I thought maybe it’s just not going to happen,” Ferguson said.
They first introduced legislation after a 2016 shooting in Mukilteo, in which a 19-year-old man fatally shot three former high school classmates with an AR-15-style rifle he’d purchased about a week earlier.
Allen Ivanov, the shooter, read a manual on how to operate the rifle in his car before storming a house party on July 30, 2016, and murdering his ex-girlfriend, Anna Bui, and two young men, Jake Long and Jordan Ebner. A third young man, Will Kramer, was badly wounded but survived.
Kramer’s father, Paul Kramer, attended Tuesday’s bill signing.
In pleading guilty and receiving a life prison sentence in 2017, Ivanov in part blamed “the ease of acquiring a gun” and said “Satan was in control” that night.
Inslee on Tuesday also signed House Bill 1143, imposing a 10-day waiting period on purchases of all guns, and requiring proof that buyers have completed gun-safety training, such as an online video course.
And the governor signed Senate Bill 5078, which allows the state attorney general or private citizens to sue gun manufacturers and dealers under public nuisance laws if they negligently allow their guns to be sold to minors or straw purchasers, meaning those who buy a gun for someone else who might not be allowed to.
After signing that measure, Inslee thanked sponsors state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, and David Hackney, D-Tukwila. He also gave a pen to first lady Trudi Inslee, who had testified to the Legislature in support of the gun measure.
“OK, party safely tonight,” Inslee said at the end of the ceremony.
The new gun laws add to an accumulation of restrictions passed over the past several years in a campaign that began in earnest after the massacre of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. The Bushmaster rifle model used by the shooter is on the list of guns that can no longer be legally sold in Washington.
Since then, Washington lawmakers and voters have approved enhanced background checks for gun purchases and extreme-risk protection orders allowing guns to be temporarily taken from people who pose significant risk of harm to themselves or others. The state also has banned gun magazines holding more than 10 rounds and prohibited open carry of guns at the state Capitol and public demonstrations.
State Rep. Liz Berry, D-Seattle, who sponsored the waiting-period bill, said the new gun safety laws will save lives.
“It’s not going to happen next year. It might not happen in three years, it’s going to be over time,” she said in an interview, calling the 10-day waiting period critical to stopping suicides and crimes of passion.
At the signing ceremony, Berry credited high school students and other youths who have marched and protested to demand action on gun violence.
“We see you. We hear you. And today we are doing something about it,” said Berry.
All three of the latest gun restriction bills passed the Legislature on largely party-line votes, with Republicans opposing them and most Democrats voting in support.
Washington joins nine other states, including California, Illinois and New York, as well as the District of Columbia, that have imposed bans on AR-15s and similar guns, according to the Giffords Law Center.
Opponents of the ban here have confidently predicted it will be overturned in light of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision last year.
The so-called Bruen decision struck down a New York law requiring people to demonstrate a specific need to carry guns outside their homes. The conservative majority’s ruling upended the test courts had long used for evaluating gun restrictions, finding that judges should no longer weigh decisions on public safety concerns, instead considering whether the laws are consistent with the Second Amendment and “with this Nation’s tradition of firearm regulation.”
The lawsuit filed Tuesday challenging the ban on AR-15s cited the Bruen ruling, arguing Washington cannot ban the commonly owned firearm models.
“Arms that are in common use — as the firearms Washington has banned unquestionably are — are neither unusual nor dangerous. Therefore, they cannot be banned, and the Washington laws challenged herein must be declared unconstitutional,” wrote attorney Joel Ard, in the 21-page lawsuit complaint.
Ferguson on Tuesday said he is confident Washington’s law will withstand legal scrutiny, boasting of his office’s undefeated record on such cases.
“This is not the first ban on the sale of assault weapons that’s been adopted in the United States. And over and over and over again those pieces of legislation have been upheld in courts all across the country,” he said.
Staff reporter Claire Withycombe contributed to this report.
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