Mar 10, 2023 - Politics

Ban on selling assault weapons clears state House

Illustration of a paper gun target with a "no" or "banned" symbol in the middle

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Washington lawmakers are advancing multiple measures to try to curb gun violence, including a proposal to ban sales of assault weapons.

Why it matters: Democrats, who control Washington's Legislature, say the rise in firearm violence in the state — plus the frequency of mass shootings nationwide — shows the need for stricter regulations.

Republicans, meanwhile, say the proposals are an unconstitutional infringement of gun ownership rights, and would unfairly burden responsible firearm owners.

Latest: The state House passed the ban on the sale of assault weapons on a 55-42 vote Wednesday.

  • The measure applies to a wide variety of semi-automatic firearms, including AR-15s and AK-47s, as well as other guns that have one or more features described in the bill.
  • The legislation would prohibit the sale, manufacturing and importing of such guns. But it wouldn't outlaw possession of them — meaning people who already own those firearms could keep them.

Context: While Democratic state legislators, the governor and the attorney general have proposed versions of an assault weapons ban for years, this year marks the first time such a proposal has cleared either chamber of the Legislature.

Plus: Another proposal that passed the state House this week would require people to wait 10 days when they go to buy any type of firearm, and to go through gun safety training.

  • Separately, a bill that cleared the state Senate would make it easier to sue gun manufacturers and dealers, allowing those businesses to be held liable if they don't take adequate steps to keep guns from falling into the wrong hands.

What they're saying: "Gun violence is preventable. This bill will save lives," state Rep. Liz Berry (D-Seattle) said during Wednesday's debate on the assault weapons sales ban.

The other side: State Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) called banning assault weapons "an infringement of constitutional rights of the people."

  • He and other Republicans also objected to the bill containing an emergency clause, which would prevent voters from overturning the measure through a referendum campaign.

Between the lines: Last year, Democrats passed a ban on high-capacity firearm magazines and still gained seats in the November election.

  • That has emboldened them to push forward on the assault weapons sales ban without fearing backlash from voters, key lawmakers told Axios last fall.

The big picture: If the ban passes the state Senate and is approved by the governor, Washington would become the 10th state to enact restrictions on the sale of assault weapons.

  • The others are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

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