State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working to control ownership of some rifles and high-capacity magazines in Washington state, but most local law enforcement leaders disagree with him.
Senate Bill 5050, introduced in the state Senate on Jan. 9, would ban the sale of “assault weapons” and magazines capable of carrying more than 10 rounds. The bill is before the Law and Justice Committee for review.
The bill lists several reasons a rifle would be considered an assault weapon, including a detachable magazine, pistol grip, second handgrip or “a shroud attached to the barrel, or that partially or completely encircles the barrel, allowing the bearer to hold the firearm … without being burned.”
“I believe a ban on the sale of assault weapons is the right policy for Washington, and I will keep fighting for that,” Ferguson said.
He cited a report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which says between 2009 and 2013 assault weapons and high-capacity magazines “resulted in 135 percent more people shot and 57 percent more killed, compared to other mass shootings.”
A study at Johns Hopkins University says 100 homicides and 500 gunshot wounds could have been prevented if a national ban on high-capacity magazines existed, Ferguson said.
Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane, Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond, Richland Police Chief Chris Skinner and Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg disagree with Ferguson’s bill, for different reasons.
“My biggest concern with any gun control legislation is if it violates the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Keane said. “Many of our citizens in Benton County are deeply concerned about any possible infringement in this regard.”
Hohenberg and Skinner agreed with him.
“It’s a tough one, both personally and professionally, because both perspectives are not in alignment,” Skinner said. “Would our society be safer if we didn’t have the ability to fire 30 rounds in a second? My answer is yes. Do I want to erode my ability to own firearms? No. It comes down to personal responsibility.”
Hohenberg added that it comes down to who has the firearms.
“The bad guys are going to figure out how to get them,” Hohenberg said. “The good guys just have to face more hoops to get them.”
It comes down to who has them, and the bad guys are going to figure out how to get them. The good guys just have to face more hoops to get them.
Kennewick police Chief Ken Hohenberg
The local law enforcement leaders agreed the ban would not have any effect, because people with murderous intent would find firearms or magazines. Criminals regularly skirt prohibitions already in place to possess a firearm, or modify one before it’s used in a crime.
“If you are hell bent on doing whatever to make a statement. ... Let’s say we took away every assault rifle in this country. I hope people don’t believe this will stop them,” Raymond said. “I don’t believe it will change their behavior.”
Keane and Hohenberg would like to see existing laws applied more often and to a greater extent.
“If we could hold people accountable, it would be promising,” Hohenberg said.
“We should make sure our own house is in order, instead of making a blanket ban,” Skinner said. “Where are we failing? It’s important to pay attention to why they happen.”
Many mass shooters appear to have had mental health issues before committing crimes. Local police and sheriffs would like to see easier access to mental health for people needing help.
“Before we start taking away the people’s Second Amendment rights, we need to address the people’s behavior,” Raymond said. “We should be focusing on behaviors rather than weapons. By controlling the gun, you won’t be controlling their behavior.”
Keane noted that there are not enough resources to assess, treat and house people with mental illnesses.
“Sadly, jails are quickly becoming the substitute housing facilities for the mentally ill,” Keane said.
I have not personally found any objective evidence that suggests an actual reduction of violent gun crime simply by outlawing a certain type of weapon, magazine capacity, or caliber of bullet
Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane
Gov. Jay Inslee and some Western Washington state lawmakers are pushing to pass additional legislation to force people to store their guns with locks, and require additional licensing and background checks for people buying assault weapons.
Keane sympathizes with those who have lost loved ones due to violent acts committed by criminals using these types of weapons, he said.
“However, I have not personally found any objective evidence that suggests an actual reduction of violent gun crime simply by outlawing a certain type of weapon, magazine capacity, or caliber of bullet,” Keane said. “In fact, cities with the strictest gun control laws have some of the highest gun violence anywhere in the United States.”
Pasco Police Chief Robert Metzger declined to comment for this story.
Read the full text of the bill at bit.ly/SenateBill5050