After mass shootings, lawmakers clash over gun legislation

At least 10 firearms bills introduced early in session; four still stand chance at becoming law.

OLYMPIA — Washington state lawmakers introduced a multitude of bills early this 2018 session dealing with gun regulation to address the multiple incidences of gun violence in the nation.

More than 10 firearm bills were introduced and led to heated debate throughout January. Four still have a chance to become law, having passed the Feb. 14 cutoff deadline.

“We are not doing nearly enough to regulate access to weapons designed to cause mass casualties. We can do better if we choose to do better,” Gov. Jay Inslee wrote in a news release Feb. 15, the day after news broke of a 19-year-old who opened fire and killed 17 students and staff members at a high school in Florida.

“Thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, sponsor of two gun regulation bills that missed their deadline in the Senate, wrote in a press release.

State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, at a Feb. 15 press conference, held his view that placing more laws on guns was not going to make schools any safer. The state Legislature, he said, should instead focus on funding school programs for armed guards at schools, training teachers to handle weapons and allowing school districts to decide for themselves what policy works best for them.

“This is not a gun issue, this is a mental health issue,” state Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said at the conference. Wilson suggested that lawmakers focus more on comprehensive mental health bills than gun regulations.

Washington state had three notable deadly shootings in recent years. In October 2014 at Marysville Pilchuck High School, a student killed four other students and himself. Another shooting happened in September 2017 when a student from Freeman High School killed a classmate and wounded three others. A September 2016 shooting at Cascade Mall in Burlington drew national attention when a man opened fire, killing five people.

On Feb. 16, Staff members at Highline College in Des Moines reported hearing shots fired. In a scare after the shooting in Florida, students hid in classrooms until police arrived. Police found no evidence of shots fired or weapons on campus.

Four gun bills passed one chamber before the Feb. 14 deadline to keep alive the bills’ chances of becoming law.

Nearly two-thirds, or 62 percent, of firearms deaths in the U.S. are suicides, according to data from Everytown for Gun Safety.

SB 5553, sponsored by state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, would allow a person at risk of suicide to voluntarily give up their rights to own a firearm. The bill allows a person to restore their firearm rights after a period of seven days.

Amid concerns the waiver could be used against someone in employment or health services, lawmakers added amendments. The bill now prohibits employers or healthcare providers from using the waiver as a term of employment or service.

The waivers are also exempt from the Public Records Act and they must be destroyed after someone restores their firearm rights.

The bill passed the state Senate unanimously on Jan. 24. It is currently being considered for a vote in the state House of Representatives.

SB 5992, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, bans bump-fire stocks or the use of a firearm containing a bump stock. The bill makes owning, selling or manufacturing a bump stock in Washington state a felony.

Two survivors of a shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas — Emily Cantrell and Kyle Helms — in which the shooter reportedly used bump stocks, gave emotional testimony during the bill’s public hearing in January.

Several people opposed the bill on the grounds that bump stocks help people with disabilities protect themselves by enabling them to use a weapon.