Washington State Assault Weapons Ban Proposed


Inspired, perhaps, by Oscar Wilde (“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess”), Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has announced two new sweeping gun control bills, with Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle) and Rep. Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds) as the bill’s prime sponsors.

Despite being described as “assault weapon reform,” the proposed legislation is nothing short of a ban of many common, legal firearms and “large-capacity magazines” currently possessed by millions of law-abiding Americans for self-defense, hunting, and recreational shooting. 

Both bills use the same extensive definitions of “assault weapon” and “large-capacity magazine” (LCM). “Assault weapon” would include:

  • a semiautomatic rifle using a detachable magazine and with one or more of the listed six features (e.g., folding or telescoping stock, thumbhole stock),
  • a semiautomatic handgun or a semiautomatic, centerfire, or rimfire rifle with a fixed magazine that can hold more than ten rounds,
  • a semiautomatic, centerfire, or rimfire rifle with overall length of less than 30 inches,
  • a semiautomatic handgun using a detachable magazine and with one of the listed four features, and
  • a shotgun with a revolving cylinder or certain semiautomatic shotguns.

The bills exclude “any firearm that is manually operated by bolt, pump, lever, or slide action,” “antique” firearms, and any gun that has been made permanently inoperable. 

An LCM is defined as “any ammunition feeding device with the capacity to accept more than ten rounds,” or “any conversion kit, part, or combination of parts, from which such a device can be assembled” if the parts are in the possession or control of the same person, but excludes a tubular magazine contained in a lever-action firearm and a .22 caliber tube ammunition feeding device.

The first bill prohibits all possession, purchase, sale or transfer of an “assault weapon” or LCM, except as permitted. (“Transfer” already has a special definition in Washington law, and means any “intended delivery of a firearm to another person without consideration of payment or promise of payment including, but not limited to, gifts and loans.”) The exceptions for other than law enforcement personnel or licensed dealers include persons who legally possess such items when the law takeseffect, and persons who become owners through inheritance or other operation of law, provided these owners can “establish such provenance.” Once grandfathered, owners are themselves prohibited from selling or transferring the item, other than to a licensed dealer or by way of permanent relinquishment to law enforcement. Guns and magazines relinquished to law enforcement “must be destroyed.”  

The second bill proposes a marginally less extreme alternative. First, it would impose a registration-licensing system for “assault weapons” and LCMs. Every person who possesses, transports, manufactures, purchases or sells an “assault weapon” or LCM must have an annual state-issued license, with an updated license required every time there is a change in possession of the gun or LCM. The licensing requirement has a delay period (until 2020) before it applies to persons who currently possess such items, but these persons would be prohibited from selling or transferring the gun or LCM to anyone other than a licensed dealer, a gunsmith, or to law enforcement for permanent relinquishment. Like the first bill, this bill mandates that relinquished guns and LCMs “must be destroyed.”

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