Serving Franklin County, WA

Bill would ban so-called 'assault' weapons

Even plinking rifle would become illegal

OLYMPIA - A popular .22 caliber rifle in Eastern Washington would be classified as an "assault" weapon under a proposed law making its way through the Legislature.

The manufacture, distribution and sale of any so-called "assault weapon" would become illegal if a bill passed by the state House of Representatives clears the Senate and is signed into law.

Substitute House Bill 1240 defines "assault weapons" by brands and models, and generally as semiautomatic weapons with specific features.

The bill would ban semiautomatic rifles with a length of less than 30 inches; semiautomatic centerfire rifles that accept a detachable magazine and or a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds; semiautomatic pistols that have the capacity to accept a detachable magazine; some semiautomatic shotguns; and conversion kits and parts.

It effectively would prohibit the sale of the popular Ruger 10/22, long a mainstay of "plinkers" in Eastern Washington, firearms dealers say.

It would also prohibit the sale of "parts" that give the firearm - which has been sold here since the 1980s - a military-style look, but not change its firing capabilities.

The bill contains some exceptions for licensed manufacturers and dealers, who would still be allowed to sell to state or federal military or law enforcement agencies, as well as out-of-state residents.

Licensed firearms dealers also can sell assault weapons acquired from an individual legally authorized to possess or transfer the weapon.

Any person may acquire an assault weapon upon the death of the weapon's former owner, if that former owner was in legal possession of the weapon and the person who acquires possession can establish such provenance, under the bill.

The definition of a so-called "assault weapon" under the proposal would exclude antique firearms, a permanently inoperable firearm and any firearm manually operated by bolt, pump, lever or slide action. 

Machine guns are already illegal under most circumstances in the state.

There are also certain restrictions on semiautomatic assault rifles under current law.

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, called the bill "unconstitutional." 

"This policy impairs your right to bear arms in defense of yourself and the state," he said.

The nation has experimented with similar bans in the past, he said.

In the 1990s, so-called "assault rifles" nationwide; the ban didn't reduce crime rates or violent crime. 

Ultimately, the federal government abandoned the experiment and deemed it an infringement on a person's constitutional right, Walsh said.

Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, who introduced the measure, said it comes down to mass shootings.

"We seem to be becoming numb to the scourge of violence that is happening with these assault weapons," he said. 

Walsh countered that Substitute House Bill 1240 makes a mistake that a lot of other bills make, as well.

"It assumes that by restricting the choices and options of law-abiding citizens in how they choose to protect themselves, it will somehow affect the behavior of psychopaths and criminals," he said. "Let's not penalize law-abiding citizens in an effort to deter the actions of criminals..."

The bill passed the House, 55-42, largely along party lines.


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