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Senate committee hears testimony on gun control bills

A series of bills came before the Senate Law & Justice Committee Monday, drawing a large crowd of gun rights supporters and Second Amendment advocates. 

Each of the five bills addressed facets of gun ownership and related challenges. 

Senate Bill 6077, which bans high-caliber magazine guns with more than 10 rounds, was the subject of a public hearing on Monday, along with several others bills that limited gun ownership of certain types of firearms. Some who spoke in defense of SB 6077 said the limit of ownership of these types of weapons would protect vulnerable populations, while others said the banning these weapons would ensure that some groups would be in danger. 

“Washington law currently does not impose regulations relating to ammunitions or ammunition magazines,” said Shani Bauer, a committee staff member. “The federal government had imposed a ban on high-capacity magazines for a period of 10 years, but that law expired in 2004.”

While some states, like California and Colorado, adopted similar bans on large-capacity magazine weapons, some states limit rounds in those weapons to 10 rounds of ammunition. Other states have a limit of 15 rounds. The bill in front of the Senate Law & Justice Committee would define large-capacity magazines to be weapons that can handle more than 10 rounds of ammunition. A violation of the law, if the bill is passed, would be classified as a gross misdemeanor. 

The bill, according to Bauer, would “grandfather” in owners of large-capacity magazines who acquired those guns before the effective date of the bill. Those who inherit such a weapon would be looped into the grandfather clause, as well, although the inherited weapon can’t be sold or transferred to the ownership of anyone else. Law enforcement officers, members of the military and gun manufacturers who sell to those groups are also allowed to own and possess these large-capacity magazines. 

The bill previously came before the committee as Senate Bill 5062 in the 2019 legislative session, with minor changes made to the current version of the bill. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-48th District), said the bill was an effort to stem problems that result from gun violence. 

“We see this in the news almost every day,” Kuderer said during the public hearing. “Every year, nearly 40,000 people die of gun violence…Something has to change. We are here today to interrupt the cycle and say enough is enough.” 

High-capacity magazines, Kuderer went on to say, allow those with evil intentions to ensure maximum carnage and the bill would inhibit the destruction these types of weapons can cause. 

“Here at home, the shooters in both Muckleteoe and Burlington use large-capacity magazines to end eight lives far too early,” Kuderer said. “Limiting magazine capacity to ten rounds strikes a balance, allowing critical time for first responders to intervene and save lives.” 

Those who spoke in support of the bill 

“Carrying 300 rounds of ammunition, [the shooter] was able to carry out his dream — committing a mass school shooting ,” said Washington resident April Schentrup, a mother of a murdered teenager in Florida, who testified in the Monday hearing. “In under two minutes, he was able to unpack his assault rifle, load up his magazines and shoot up the first floor. He shot 24, resulting in 11 killed and 13 wounded.”

Schentrup’s daughter, Carmen, was 16 years old and a senior at the time of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, FL. She was one of the 11 who were killed in the shooting two years ago before the family moved to Washington for a new start in the wake of the shooting. 

“The shooter’s high-capacity magazine meant that he didn’t have to stop for a few second to reload,” Schentrup said. “Seconds that could have meant the difference between life and death.”

Others disagreed with the bill, pointing to technicalities in the bill that wouldn’t make much of a difference, in their view. 

“Senate Bill 6077 falsely redefines standard-capacity magazines as being large-capacity or high-capacity,” said Keely Hopkins, state director for the National Rifle Association. “Magazines holding more than 10 rounds are the standard manufactured supply capacity that makes up the majority of all handguns and modern reloading rifles.”

These types of firearms, Hopkins said, are commonly owned by Washington residents who follow the rules and use their own guns for personal protection. A federal ban on high-capacity magazine weapons was studied by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and researchers concluded the ban had no effect on crime, even multiple-victim crimes, Hopkins said. 

Other lawmakers who didn’t testify at the public hearing Monday still had plenty to say about the slew of gun-related bills. Sen. Matt Shea (R-4th District).

“These go against the core principles of America, but they also go against Article I, Section 24 of the Washington State Constitution,” Shea said in a video released earlier this week. “It very clearly says the right to bear arms shall not be impaired. All of these bills I’m talking about clearly impair the right to bear arms.”

Other gun-related legislation

Senate Bill 6294

This bill would require handgun owners to submit documentation that they have completed a recognized gun safety training course in the last five years if they want to obtain or renew a concealed carry pistol license. That training has to include basic firearm safety rules, safe storage, suicide prevention, safe handling, gun laws and other facets of gun training. 

The training requirements in the bill don’t apply to members of the military or law enforcement officers. 

“I worked to incorporate suggestions made by members on both sides of the aisle to present a more measured approach to ensuring Washington gun owners who wish to conceal carry know how to safely use their firearms,” said Sen. Jesse Solomon (D-32nd District), who sponsored SB 6294. “The bill before you today brings Washington state in line with 40 other states which require some form of firearms safety training for concealed carry.”

Senate Bill 6347

If this bill passes, a concealed pistol license would be valid for seven years, not five years, if the applicant can provide proof they have completed firearm training from a recognized firearm training program in the last five years. This training must be sponsored by a law enforcement agency, college or university, an organization that provides firearms training or firearms training school. 

The result of the bill, its sponsor said, would just require concealed pistol license [CPL] holders to get a little extra training to extend their license by two years. 

“CPL holders, as a demographic across the United States, are among the most responsible and law-abiding citizens that you can find,” said Sen. Keith Wagoner (R-39th District), the bill’s sponsor. “My bill respects and would like to reward that fact. There’s no mandate to get training, it doesn’t change the CPL program as it exists today, it just incentivizes people to get training.” 

Senate Bill 6406

This bill would make a theft of a firearm from a home, store or sales outlet a Class B felony. Anyone convicted of this offense could be sentenced to between 15 and 20 months in prison. However, if it is classified as a class B felony, a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine could be imposed. 

“When someone comes into my home and steals anything, they become a criminal by just that act,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson (R-17th District). “But far greater penalty should be placed when they choose to steal a gun. Let’s greatly increase the risks of stealing that gun for the criminal.”

Senate Bill 6402

Also dealing with stolen firearms, this bill makes use of a stolen firearm a Class A felony. Unlawful possession of a stolen firearm is currently a Class B felony, but this bill would up the penalty on the holder of a stolen gun by increasing the seriousness of the crime to XVI, which carries with it a life sentence without parole for someone over age 18 and 25 years to life for someone under age 18. 

“This bill arose from something that happened with constituents in my district,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, (R-18th District). “Their parents were brutally slain here in Washington state, and because of some of the bills we’ve passed lately, after only serving nine years, the offender was let out of prison. It’s time for us to turn out thinking a little bit and see what we can do to take a little bit of a different approach.”

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