By Taylor McAvoy, WNPA Olympia News Bureau
To address multiple incidences of gun violence in the nation, state lawmakers introduced a multitude of gun regulation bills early this session.
Throughout January, more than 10 firearm bills were introduced and sparked heated debate. Four still have a chance to become law since passing the deadline on February 14.
On February 15, the day after news broke about a 19-year-old who opened fire at a high school Florida and killed 17 people, governor Jay Inslee released a press statement, which read in part, “We are not doing nearly enough to regulate access to weapons designed to cause mass casualties. We can do better if we choose to do better.”
“Thoughts and prayers are not enough,” said senator David Frockt (D-Seattle), the sponsor of two gun regulation bills that missed their deadline in the senate.
At a press conference on February 15, representative Dan Kristiansen (R-Snohomish) said that placing more laws on guns would not make schools safer. He said the legislature should focus on funding school programs for armed guards at schools, training teachers to handle weapons and allowing school districts to decide policies for themselves.
Senator Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver) suggested that lawmakers focus more on comprehensive mental health bills and said, “This is not a gun issue, this is a mental health issue.”
In recent years, Washington state had three notable deadly shootings – one in October 2014 at Marysville Pilchuck High School when a student killed four other students and himself. The shooting at the Cascade Mall in Burlington in September 2016 drew national attention when a man opened fire killing five people. In September 2017, a student from Freeman High School killed a classmate and wounded three others.
On February16, just two days after the shooting at a Florida school, Highline College in Des Moines reported hearing shots fired. In a scare, students hid in classrooms until police arrived. They found no evidence of shots fired or weapons on campus. That same week, a teen in Everett was arrested after his grandmother found plans to shoot up his high school.
Before the February 14 deadline, four gun bills passed one chamber.
According to data from Everytown for Gun Safety, nearly two-thirds, or 62 percent, of firearm deaths in the U.S. are suicides.
Senate Bill 5553, sponsored by senator Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle) would allow a person at risk of suicide to voluntarily give up their rights to own a firearm. The bill allows a person to restore their firearm rights after a period of seven days.
Amid concerns that the waiver could be used against someone in employment or health services, lawmakers added amendments.
The bill now prohibits employers or healthcare providers from using the waiver as a term of employment or service. The waivers are also exempt from the Public Records Act and they must be destroyed after someone restores their firearm rights.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously on January 24. It is currently being considered for a vote in the House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 5992, sponsored by senator Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) bans bump-fire stocks or the use of a firearm containing a bump stock. The bill makes owning, selling or manufacturing a bump stock in Washington state a felony. Two survivors of a shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas in which the shooter reportedly used bump stocks, Emily Cantrell and Kyle Helms, gave emotional testimonies during the bill’s public hearing in January.
Several people opposed the bill on the grounds that bump stocks help people with disabilities protect themselves by enabling them to use a weapon.
The bill passed the senate on January 25 with a 29-20 vote. It is currently being considered for a vote in the House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 6298, sponsored by senator Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) adds convictions for domestic violence harassment to the list of crimes for which someone can be prohibited from owning a firearm.
During floor debate on February 9, Dhingra said, “This really ensures that we are holding all perpetrators of domestic violence equally accountable,” adding, “It is a crime where we see a lot of lethality for women involved.”
Senator Mike Padden (R-Spokane) said during the debate that he is concerned that domestic violence harassment is too broadly defined and someone could be too easily accused of the crime. The bill passed the senate with a 34-13 vote on February 9. The bill had a public hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on February 21, and an executive session in that committee on February 22.
House Bill 2519, sponsored by representative John Lovick (D-Mill Creek) would require law enforcement agencies to delay returning a concealed weapon permit that has been taken or surrendered until they run a background check and decide the person meets requirements of the license. State law requires law enforcement to return a surrendered firearm in a timely manner but also requires officers to run a background check and allows a delay of up to four days.
Captain Greg Lineberry oversees property and evidence functions at the Everett Police Department. He said at the bill’s hearing in January that this legislation is simply a technical fix to ensure the Concealed Pistol License return law is the same as the firearms return law. Current law says that if someone applying for the license is subject to a court order, they are ineligible to obtain a firearm or to receive one that has been taken until the order expires. The proposed bill would include Concealed Pistol Licenses to this statute.
The bill passed the House of Representatives with a 94-4 vote on February 14. It awaits a hearing in the senate.