Now in the majority, Washington state Democrats press for tighter gun laws

OLYMPIA — Ann-Marie Parsons’ daughter Carrie was killed along with 57 others in last fall’s Las Vegas shooting from bullets fired by a rifle modified with a bump stock.

That’s what brought Parsons, 66, from Bainbridge Island on Monday to testify in support of Senate Bill 5992, a bill that wouldenact a state ban on bump stocks, a type of trigger modification that allows rapid fire.

“If the gun was in the room right now, none of us could run fast enough,” Parsons told lawmakers and others at a Senate Law and Justice Committee hearing attended by hundreds. “This can be prevented.”

Democrats, emboldened by their new one-vote majority in the state Senate, are pushing forward on proposals they say could reduce gun violence.

Lawmakers Monday also heard comments on SB 6049, which would ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, and SB 5444, which would require enhanced background checks for buying so-called assault rifles, similar to the current requirements for handgun purchases. And they took input on SB 5463, a bill intended to promote the safe storage of firearms at home.

But in Olympia, where little gun legislation has passed in recent years, obstacles await.

Gun-rights advocates remain adamantly opposed to many of the proposals. Only one of the bills heard Monday — the proposed bump-stock ban — has drawn any Republican co-sponsors.

Even as Democrats hold slim majorities in the Legislature, they don’t necessarily have the votes for their proposals.

“They aren’t real popular in my district,” said Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview.

In recent years, lawmakers have rarely found compromise on gun legislation. Bills to regulate firearms often don’t even get public hearings, much less votes in the House or Senate.

That legislative gridlock has continued even as voters in 2014 approved a ballot measure to expand gun-purchase background checks and in 2016 voted for an extreme-risk protection order.

Both measures won by large margins.

Supporters of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which helped drive the ballot measures to victory, showed up Monday sporting placards demanding that lawmakers take action.

Gun-rights advocates opposed Monday’s proposals, which they consider poorly written, or an infringement against constitutional rights.

More than 100 gun-rights advocates rallied Friday at the Capitol steps to oppose the bills, and many showed up Monday to argue against them.

Alan Gottlieb of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, testified against the bills, including SB 6049, which would ban the sale of new magazines that carry more than 10 rounds.

“The greater impact on the magazine ban will be on handgun owners,” said Gottlieb, chairman of the Bellevue-based organization, adding later: “The most popular-selling handguns these days almost all have capacity magazines of over 10 rounds.”

Adam Cornell, a deputy prosecuting attorney for Snohomish County, spoke in favor of SB 5444, the bill to add enhanced background checks.

Cornell worked on the case against Allen Christopher Ivanov, who in 2016 pleaded guilty to killing three former classmates in a shooting in Mukilteo. Ivanov bought the rifle he used about a week before the shooting.

“It should not have been so easy for this angry 19-year old to purchase an assault rifle,” said Cornell.

A committee vote was scheduled for Tuesday on SB 5992, the proposed bump-stock ban.

Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle and chair of the Law and Justice Committee, said he isn’t sure when — or if — the other proposals will get committee votes.

But even if it passes the Senate, the fate of SB 5992 remains unclear in the state House, where Democrats hold a 50-48 majority.

Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, said he opposes the bills heard in Monday’s Senate hearings.

The bump-stock ban bill is written too broadly, said Blake, and could also make illegal unrelated personal modifications to firearms.

As for the enhanced background checks for so-called assault rifles, Blake said existing background checks are good enough.

If the Legislature fails to approve the bills heard Monday, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility will consider bringing some kind of statewide ballot measure this fall, said CEO Renée Hopkins.

“We’re always open to taking things to the ballot,” Hopkins said in a Monday afternoon news conference.

Gov. Jay Inslee also urged lawmakers to act.