OLYMPIA, Wash., February 9, 2023—With the start of Washington’s 2023 Legislative Session on January 9, lawmakers are considering new firearm restriction laws in an effort to combat gun violence.
Of these proposed bills, HB-1240 would ban the sale of military-style assault weapons, HB-1144 would enhance the requirements for firearm purchases and transfers, and SB-5078 would hold gun manufacturers liable to ensure firearms don’t end up in the hands of gun traffickers or straw purchasers.
This set of bills, like most gun restriction laws in past history, has divided political aisles with Republican lawmakers believing the bills would impact gun manufacturing businesses while failing to mitigate gun violence—with most gun-related crimes being committed by illegally possessed firearms. Democrat lawmakers are taking the stance that stronger gun laws reduce gun violence and access to assault rifles make it easier for perpetrators to engage in mass shootings.
Happening now: @Strom_Peterson introduces #HB1240 to ban assault weapons. He reads the names of those killed in Mukilteo by a man with an assault weapon in his opening remarks. #WALeg pic.twitter.com/uCWNb8b3vu
— Fuse Washington (@FuseWA) January 17, 2023
The ban of military-style assault weapons is backed by Attorney General Bob Furguson, along with Governor Jay Inslee, in his sixth attempt since 2017—following the 2016 mass shooting at a Mukilteo house party when the shooter used a military-style assault rifle and a high-capacity magazine.
Furguson was successful in passing a bill, SB- 5078, that restricted the sale of high-capacity magazines last legislative session. That bill was signed into law by the Governor last March. Furguson was also successful in passing a bill banning the manufacturing and possession of ghost guns which passed the legislation in 2019.
Senator Marko Liias (D-Mukilteo) supported the bill saying “high-capacity magazines make it easy for shooters to inflict maximum damage by allowing more shots to be fired without needing to pause to reload. Because of this we see these accessories favored by mass shooters.”
Republicans had a different take.
“This is a serious bill that will jeopardize the safety of Washingtonians,” said Sen. Phil Fortunato (R-Auburn). “This is not about providing safety for children. This is putting in jeopardy the lives of law-abiding citizens, especially women.”
David Yamane, Sociology Professor at Lake Forest University, who has spent the last 10 years studying gun culture in America, found that 98.85% of guns and 99.21% of gun owners are not involved in fatal, non-fatal injuries, or victimizations involving guns annually.
Brett Bass, Program Manager of Forefront Suicide Prevention, Bellevue Gun Club instructor and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, believes there is a good chance all of the bills will pass this session, based on Democrats’ recent voting history, but will fail to survive constitutional scrutiny.
“The assault weapons ban is almost certainly, imminently, doomed judicially because there’s nothing in the text, of either the Washington State text, or the constitution, to support the idea that this is a legitimate action from the state and I don’t believe you can find meaningful historical, or traditional, precedent for broad prohibitions on the most commonly owned types of firearms,” said Bass.
Democrats in favor of the assault-rifle ban argue that the increase in cases, in which assault rifles were being used for mass shootings, is one of the supporting reasons for the bill, but Bass argues mass shooters typically use whatever is the most popular firearm at the time.
As it stands handguns are the most used firearm in mass shooting cases, from 1982 to 2003, by far, according to Statistica.
Find more statistics at Statista
Gun manufacturers more than doubled their revenue from assault rifle sales, from 2019 to 2021, from $108 million to $253 million, CBS News reported. Rising crime (including the increase in mass shootings) and personal safety are at the top of the list for reasons why people decide to purchase a first-time firearm, the Manhattan Institute found.
“The source of the problem is the failure of the government to protect us. So common sense dictates that we do what is necessary to protect ourselves. Frankly, it’s foolish to believe that the best response to people who commit crimes with guns is launching a holy war against people who respect gun laws,” Jason Riley, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute wrote.
Riley continued that lower levels of gun possession don’t always necessarily translate into lower levels of violent crime. “Using the example of gun ownership rates in Switzerland and Austria, for example, are significantly higher than in Germany, even though the Swiss and the Austrians have lower murder rates than the Germans”, he said.
Since the National Firearms Act of 1934, most of the United States’ firearm reform acts have regulated, but not outright banned, the use of firearms except for the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004. In a study conducted by Mark Gius, at Quinnipiac University, it was found that this 10-year ban had no significant impact on murder rates in the country and further found states with stricter gun laws actually had higher gun-related murders.
The city of Seattle saw a 23% increase in shooting deaths last year, compared to the same time frame the year prior, with 38 shooting related deaths, most of which took place in the Chinatown/International District and Bitterlake neighborhoods, KOMO News reported last week.
Although the Washington Association of Sheriff’s and Police Chiefs is still finalizing their data report for 2022, they recorded a decrease in overall murders in Snohomish County in 2021 with 15 overall murders in 2021 compared to 12 in 2020. Snohomish County saw 680 firearm related crimes in 2021, according to WASPC data. This was one of the lowest weapon brackets with “personal items” being the highest.
Approximately 810 Washingtonians are killed by guns a year, which is a rate of about 10.5 per 100,000 people. Someone is killed by a gun roughly every 12 hours in Washington State, according to the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, although 74% of these deaths are suicides.
Still, gun violence remains a topic of contention throughout the nation where at least 39 mass shooting have occurred since the beginning of this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive—most recently in California, Iowa, and Washington leaving a total of 24 dead. Three separate shootings in California attributed to 19 of these deaths, a state known for having some of the strictest gun laws, with a mass shooting in Half Moon Bay taking place at the end of last month. The incident left seven dead and one injured. it was the state’s second mass shooting in just three days.
In response, President Joe Biden reintroduced a federal Assault Weapon Ban and legislation that would raise the minimum purchase age for assault weapons to 21—the first major gun reform law in decades.
“Jill and I are praying for those killed and injured in the latest tragic shooting in Half Moon Bay, California. For the second time in recent days, California communities are mourning the loss of loved ones in a senseless act of gun violence,” Biden said.
Justice Department’s new Stabilizing brace rule
On Friday, January 13, 2023, the United States Department of Justice announced new rules to address stabilizing braces, which are accessories to convert pistols into short-barreled rifles. The final rule submitted to the Federal Register begins by saying any formal rule concerning stabilizing braces is now void, then continues to amend the current definition of what can be considered a rifle.
The rule went into effect January 31, 2023, on the date of publication in the Federal Register and allows for a 120-day period for manufacturers, dealers, and individuals to register tax-free any existing NFA short-barreled rifles covered by the rule. Owners of stabilizing braces can also opt to remove the stabilizing brace, returning their firearm to pistol, or surrender their firearms to the ATF.
The NRA and other groups are already in the works of preparing litigation to challenge the rule arguing that the ATF has no authority to regulate braces separate from a firearm.
The rule came just two weeks after a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated a separate Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) rule that attempted to treat bump fire stocks as machine guns.
In April, 2021, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland directed the ATF to address the issue of stabilizing braces. The NFA has imposed requirements on short-barreled rifles since the 1930’s believing they are more easily concealable than long-barreled rifles but have more destructive power than handguns.
“Today’s rule makes clear that firearm manufacturers, dealers, and individuals cannot evade these important public safety protections simply by adding accessories to pistols that transform them into short-barreled rifles,” said Attorney General Merrick in a news release by the Justice Department.
Beyond background checks and serial numbers, the heightened requirements include taxation and registration requirements that include background checks for all transfers including private transfers.