Politics & Government

Gun magazine sizes, other firearms restrictions at play in renewed debate at Capitol

In this photo taken April 26, 2017, the Washington State Capitol, also known as the Legislative Building, is seen in Olympia. New proposed gun regulations got hearing there Monday.
In this photo taken April 26, 2017, the Washington State Capitol, also known as the Legislative Building, is seen in Olympia. New proposed gun regulations got hearing there Monday. AP

Gun rights advocates clashed Monday with supporters of four bills in the Washington state legislature that ban “high-capacity” magazines and firearms made with three-dimensional printers, require law enforcement to seize guns and ammunition in domestic violence cases, and require training for those applying for concealed pistol permits.

In a packed hearing room in Olympia, residents pushing for more gun regulation told the Senate Law and Justice Committee that the measures would make the public safer. Opponents countered that the proposals would have no effect on criminals with guns and would infringe solely on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

SB 5062 would bans firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

“High-capacity magazines enable those with criminal intent to maximize carnage,” said the bill’s led sponsor, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, citing 2016 shootings in Mukilteo and Burlington that left eight dead. “Limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds strikes a balance, allowing critical time for first responders to intervene and save lives while permitting magazines with enough ammunition to maintain self-defense.”

Tom Kwieciak, a lobbyist representing the National Rifle Association, said magazines holding more than 10 rounds are “standard” and make up more than half the magazines owned in the United States.

“When we talk about large capacity or high-capacity magazines, we’re talking about magazines owned by a large majority of firearms owners in the state of Washington — your law-abiding constituents. While SB 5062 is unlikely to impact crime, it would undermine the ability of people to defend themselves,” Kwieciak said.

Ami Strahan of Spokane told the committee that her 15-year-old son, Sam, was shot and killed at Freeman High School in 2017 by a fellow student who had two guns. She said the shooter’s AR-15 rifle, which was equipped with a high-capacity magazine, jammed and so he had to use a pistol instead. Three other students were seriously injured.

“Had his high-capacity magazine rifle not jammed, just imagine the carnage that would have happened at the school that day,” Strahan said. “No one law alone can prevent all gun violence, but there is more we can do to keep our kids and communities safe.”

Jane Milhans, a University Place resident, urged the committee to oppose the bill. She described herself as a crime victim, saying two men broke into her house several years ago. The incident led her to become a certified firearms instructor, and she volunteers to train women.

“It’s a woman’s right to own firearms for personal protection. It levels the fight between her and her attackers. I’m no match to fight men with my hands. In a personal defense situation, it may take more than 10 rounds of ammunition to stop a threat,” she said.

Another bill, SB 5061, would make it a felony to manufacture or possess an “undetectable” or “untraceable” firearm. “Undetectable” is defined as a firearm that doesn’t have enough metal to be picked up by a walk-through detector or that would not generate an X-ray image. “Untraceable” is defined as a firearm manufactured after July 1 of this year that does not have a serial number registered with a federally-licensed manufacturer.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said her family bought its first 3-D printer six years ago and a 14-year-old neighbor received one as a present last Christmas.

“While the law many times in the state is not able to keep up with technology, here we have the ability to do so; these printers are here to stay. The untraceable and undetectable nature of these small firearms poses a unique danger. Currently, individuals with these weapons pass through firearm detectors with little problems,” Dhingra said.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the bill is aimed at a Texas nonprofit, Defense Distributed, that wants to place computer-aided design files on its website that people could download to make guns without undergoing background checks. Ferguson and several other attorneys general joined a lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction to block the release of the files after the Justice Department didn’t halt the nonprofit’s plans. A federal judge in Seattle last year granted an injunction blocking release of the files.

Tacoma resident Dana Morgan spoke against the bill, calling it an attempt to lessen the rights of people and to do so by deception.

“It is the right of people to make personal firearms for their personal use. The use of the word ‘manufacture’ in this bill is in conflict with the federal definition of a firearms manufacturer. People who create firearms for their personal use are ‘makers,’ not manufacturers,” he said.

State law currently gives the power to law enforcement officers to confiscate a firearm from a person who committed a crime or is in the process of doing so.

SB 5143 would require officers — when responding to a domestic violence call — to seize all firearms and ammunition when those officers have “reasonable grounds to believe” they were used or threatened to be used in a crime.

Dhingra, the senator from Redmond, said domestic violence calls are the most dangerous for officers. The risk of a woman being murdered is sharply higher when a gun is present, she added.

Rory Graves, a Bothell resident, told the committee that in 2012 her mother, a school psychologist in the Tri-Cities area, was beaten and shot by her then-husband with a .45-caliber pistol. Her mother survived the shooting.

“While my mother bled out on the carpet, screaming for help, her shooter waited about 15 minutes before calling 911, loading and locking many of his 23 guns — that the police would later confiscate almost a month after the shooting — as he refused to unlock the gun case when they finally arrived at the scene,” Graves said.

Natasha Gunia, a member of the Washington State Firearms Coalition board, said it would be a big mistake if the bill becomes law.

“In most domestic violence situations, the suspect should be removed if there is any concern about continued harm. If you take away all firearms from the premises, you are removing the victim’s only true security. If anything, we should arm and educate our victims. If you remove all firearms, you are leaving them as sitting ducks, and as an avid hunter, we all know how that will end,” she said.

The committee also heard testimony Monday on SB 5174.

To get a concealed pistol license, people are required to apply with their local law enforcement agency and undergo a fingerprint-based background check. A license must be issued if the applicant is eligible to possess a firearm under state or federal law, is over 20 years old and submits an application along with the application fee.

Under the bill, a person must complete a firearm safety training program within the last five years that includes eight hours of instruction on several topics. They include safe storage and handling of firearms, techniques for avoiding a criminal attack and how to manage violent confrontations, plus a live shooting exercise on a firing range that demonstrates shooting proficiency.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby, said he’s a supporter of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He said he wants the state to join 27 others that require applicants to demonstrate knowledge of firearm use and/or safety.

“I think we should try to be at least as progressive as the state of Texas on this score,” he said, as the audience laughed.

Bea Christophersen, a Tacoma resident, said the bill would be punitive, adding more time and bureaucracy for those seeking a permit.

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