Nov 21, 2022 - News

With bigger majorities, state Democrats hope to ban assault weapons

Illustration of the Washington State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Democrats are on track to gain one to two seats in Washington's Legislature — and that could help make 2023 the year they pass a statewide assault weapons ban, a policy that has repeatedly stalled.

Driving the news: Washington's Democrat-controlled Legislature passed a ban on the sale of high-capacity firearm magazines earlier this year. But Democrats didn't pay a price at the ballot box this November, said state Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle), who chairs the campaign committee for Senate Democrats.

  • Instead, Democrats picked up one state Senate seat, bringing their majority to 29-20, and may gain another seat in the state House, which they already control 57-41.
  • "It's clear what we have done on guns is not troubling the voters," Pedersen told Axios, calling the election results "yet another affirmation of our approach."

Latest: Last week, Pedersen and state Rep. Liz Berry (D-Seattle) wrote an op-ed saying they "will fight to ban the sale of assault weapons" when the Legislature convenes in January 2023.

  • Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane) confirmed to Axios Friday that the assault weapons ban is one of several gun safety measures his caucus considers a priority.

Why it matters: Pedersen said that rising gun deaths in King County, along with this month's Ingraham High School shooting, show that new gun safety measures are needed.

  • "We've got the world continuing to demonstrate that we need to take more serious action to prevent gun violence," Pedersen said.
  • State Rep. Strom Peterson, a Democrat from Edmonds who plans to sponsor the House version of the legislation, said last year's school shooting that killed 21 people in Uvalde, Texas also increased public demand for legislative action.

Details: Unlike past versions of the assault weapons ban, the new proposal won't try to ban possession of the military-style firearms — only sales, distribution and manufacturing, like this year's high-capacity magazine ban.

  • That's a crucial difference that Pedersen thinks will make the proposal more likely to advance.

The other side: State Rep. Jim Walsh, the ranking Republican on the House Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee, told Axios that he thinks Democrats' plan is more about motivating their base than reducing gun crimes.

  • "I think we need to do something other than restrict foundational, constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens," Walsh told Axios. He said he'd rather focus on adding school resource officers instead.

Of note: In last week's op-ed, Democrats Pedersen and Berry called for other gun safety measures, such as enacting a 10-day waiting period, plus requiring firearm buyers to get a permit and undergo training.

What's next: Gov. Jay Inslee, legislators and the attorney general plan to publicly announce several pieces of gun safety legislation in early December, the governor's office said.

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