By Taylor McAvoy
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Washington state lawmakers introduced a multitude of bills early this 2018 session on issues of gun regulation to address the multiple incidences of gun violence in the nation.
More than 10 firearm bills were introduced and led to heated debate throughout January. Four still have a chance to become law, having passed the cutoff deadline of Feb. 14.
“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,” Gov. Jay Inslee wrote in a press release on Feb. 15, the day after news broke about a 19-year-old who opened fire at a high school in Florida, killing 17 people.
“Thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, sponsor of two gun regulation bills that missed their deadline in the Senate, wrote in a press release.
Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, at a press conference on Feb. 15, held his view that placing more laws on guns was not going to make schools any safer. The Legislature, he said, should instead focus on funding school programs for armed guards at schools, training teachers to handle weapons, and allowing school districts to decide for themselves what policy works best for them.
“This is not a gun issue, this is a mental health issue,” Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said at the conference, suggesting that lawmakers focus more on comprehensive mental health bills than gun regulations.
Washington state had three notable deadly shootings in recent years; one in October 2014 at Marysville Pilchuck High School when a student killed four other students and himself. Another was in September 2017 when a student from Freeman High School killed a classmate and wounded three others. The shooting at the Cascade Mall in Burlington in September 2016 drew national attention when a man opened fire, killing five people.
On Friday (Feb. 16), Highline College in Des Moines reported hearing shots fired. In a scare after the shooting in Florida, students hid in classrooms until police arrived. They found no evidence of shots fired or weapons on campus.
Four gun bills passed one chamber before the Feb. 14 deadline to keep the bills’ chances of becoming law.
Nearly two-thirds, or 62 percent, of firearm deaths in the U.S. are suicides, according to data from Everytown for Gun Safety. SB 5553, sponsored by Sen. 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 health care 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 Jan. 24. It is currently being considered for a vote in the House of Representatives.
SB 5992, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, bans bump-fire stocks or the use of a firearm containing a bump stock. The bill makes a 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 testimony 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 Jan. 25 with a 29-20 vote. It is currently being considered for a vote in the House of Representatives.
SB 6298, sponsored by Sen. 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.
“This really ensures that we are holding all perpetrators of domestic violence equally accountable,” Dhingra said during floor debate on Feb. 9. “It is a crime where we see a lot of lethality for women involved.”
Sen. 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 Feb. 9. It is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday (Feb. 21), and for an executive session in that committee on Feb. 22.
HB 2519, sponsored by Rep. 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.
Current Washington 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 Feb. 14. It awaits a hearing in the Senate.
Five gun bills that were highly discussed this session did not make it past the cutoff deadline but could be reintroduced in the 2019 legislative session.