It’s about the group politics in Olympia. A lot of Seattleites may not realize this, but the Democrats have five members in the Washington Legislature who have lifetime ‘A’ ratings from the National Rifle Association.
David Frockt has a blunt question, directed at his own party, when I reach him by phone just off the floor of the state Senate.
“Will Democrats call the question on gun control, or not?” he said. “If we can’t take action now … ” he trails off. “Well, this would be the year to do it, wouldn’t it?”
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Frockt, a state senator from North Seattle, has turned himself into the Legislature’s point person — “the target,” he jokes — on gun control. He is the sponsor of all the most sweeping gun-control bills, most of which have struggled or died this year as they usually do.
On Tuesday, lawmakers held another packed public hearing on a new Frockt effort (Senate Bill 6620) that would raise the legal age from 18 to 21 to buy assault-style weapons. (It replaces a previous one that died.) But this new effort, like the others, remains the longest of long shots.
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I’m wondering: Why? Right-wing politicians nationally have been flipping and coming out for this very idea. So how can our supposedly blue state be stuck, even as a dam may be breaking in redder parts of the country?
A number of you readers have been likewise banging your heads against this political wall.
“It is mind blowing that the Legislature won’t do this — look into who is funding their campaigns,” wrote David Ritchie, of Woodinville, after I described recently how teens who can’t buy beer can buy AR-15s with ease.
“What I do not understand is who the hell are the legislators who are killing these measures so quietly that no floor vote is ever taken?” echoed Bellingham’s David Crosby.
So I asked Frockt: Why can’t meaningful gun control pass in this state, except by citizen initiative?
Lawmakers did ban bump-stock devices, he noted, though one legislator described that as “the least we could do.” But the bottom line is that Democrats in this blue state have never had the votes for most gun-control bills, even within their own party.
“My sense is that with the progressive left, gun control is just not their No. 1 voting issue,” Frockt says. “From the right I have gotten thousands and thousands of emails and calls this session, against everything I have done on guns.”
It’s mostly a myth that the NRA buys off lawmakers with money. It’s more about mobilization.
“They know how to besiege,” Frockt said.
The numbers reality is that in the state Senate, Democrats have just a one-vote majority. So without Republicans crossing over, a gun bill can’t afford to lose a single Democrat or it fails.
But there are three Democratic senators with lifetime A grades from the National Rifle Association. Since you asked, readers, they are: Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview; Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens; and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim. Any one of these three holds a de facto veto on most gun-control legislation in the state.
It’s the same situation in the state House. Democrats have a two-seat majority, and coincidentally, two members with lifetime A ratings from the NRA. They are Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, and Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington. Sullivan is also the House majority leader.
Now all of these legislators except Blake crossed the NRA to ban bump stocks, so it’s not as if they are lock-step robots. But notice that they don’t represent Wallingford, either. As Frockt says: “The gun issue is an easy call for me, but they all have various red lines they won’t cross with their districts.”
In the shifting politics after the Florida school shooting, the bill to raise the purchase age for an assault weapon to 21 might very well pass the full Senate. Heck, even Trump has said he supports the idea, so it might pick up some Republican votes, too.
“I’d love in a perfect world to get this bill to the floor and just dare everyone to vote no,” Frockt said.
All of which sounds to me like: They probably won’t bring it to a vote. Because they are if nothing else creatures of their group politics.
Until the left gets as fired up about guns as the right — which may be starting to happen, at least in Florida — this is our frustrating political status quo.