Washington State bans assault weapons

It’s the second state to do so this year and the 10th overall.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signs a bill on Wednesday, March 23, 2022, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington has banned so-called assault weapons, becoming the second state to do so this year, after Illinois, and the 10th overall.

Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed the ban into law Tuesday along with two other gun control measures. At a packed, and at times emotional, bill signing ceremony at the state Capitol, Inslee called Washington State a “beacon for hope for the whole country.”

Inslee said that as a member of Congress in 1994 he voted to approve a federal assault weapon ban. He was defeated for re-election that year and has attributed that loss at least in part to his vote. The federal law expired in 2004 and now the issue has fallen largely to the states.

California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia also prohibit assault weapons, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Washington State’s ban, which applies to a slew of makes and models of semiautomatic rifles, takes effect immediately. A violation is a gross misdemeanor, which can bring jail time and a fine. Individuals who currently own the banned weapons can keep them.

Inslee on Tuesday also signed into law a bill that will require a 10-day waiting period for the purchase of firearms along with a requirement that purchasers attend gun safety training. A third measure will make it easier for the state to sue the firearms industry for failing to keep guns out of the hands of individuals prohibited from possessing them.

The passage of the assault weapons ban is the culmination of a years-long effort. Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) said he first requested it during the 2017 legislative session following a mass shooting at a home in Mukilteo, Wash., that killed three young people.

“In those multiple years early on … it wasn’t getting out of committee, it wasn’t going anywhere,” Ferguson said. “To be honest there were times when I thought, ‘You know, maybe it’s just not going to happen.’”

Ferguson credited passage to the support of families and survivors of gun violence and groups including the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which made an assault weapons ban its top priority this year.

Also speaking at the bill signing ceremony, Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D) said the assault weapons ban signaled a decadal shift in the politics around gun safety measures in Washington State. Previously, Pedersen said, the conventional wisdom was that many Democratic legislators were wary of taking up gun restriction legislation and that, if they tried, the National Rifle Association had the political firepower to quash any effort.

“I think the story of the last 10 years is the complete overturning of that idea,” Pedersen said.

Shortly after the bill signing, the Bellevue, Wash.-based Second Amendment Foundation announced it filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ban.

“The state has put politics ahead of constitutional rights, and is penalizing law-abiding citizens while this legislation does nothing to arrest and prosecute criminals who misuse firearms in defiance of all existing gun control laws. It is absurd,” said Alan Gottlieb, SAF’s founder and executive vice president, in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

Ferguson said he anticipated litigation and that his office has previously successfully defended Washington gun laws.

“That’s to be expected and that’s their right, that’s the way our system works,” Ferguson said. “We are undefeated, and we plan to keep that record intact.”

SAF has pending lawsuits challenging Washington’s previous ban on high-capacity gun magazines and restriction on the sale of semiautomatic rifles to those under 21.

Washington is one of several Democratic trifecta states that have enacted measures this year aimed at curbing gun violence. This month, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed a package of bills in response to a mass shooting at Michigan State University that left three students dead. Legislation has also advanced in Colorado, Connecticut, Oregon and Maryland.

By contrast, several Republican-led states have advanced legislation to ease gun restrictions and increase school security.

Humberto Sanchez contributed to this story.