By TAYLOR MCAVOY | WNPA Olympia News Bureau
OLYMPIA — Senate Bill 5992, expected to be introduced this legislative session, would ban modifications intended to increase a weapon’s rate of fire.
The bill would ban such products as bump stocks — devices that can be attached to a semi-automatic weapon to increase its firing rate. A trigger crank is a similar device that also increases a firearm’s rate. Turning the crank allows a user to discharge several shots per revolution.
In October, Stephen Paddock used a bump stock when he fired on country music festivalgoers in Las Vegas, Nevada, killing 59 people and injuring more than 500. The crime has been called the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history. Authorities reported that Paddock had 23 guns in his hotel room, which overlooked the festival.
The proposed bill drew early opposition.
“The broad and overreaching provisions in SB 5992 could potentially criminalize firearm modifications such as competition triggers, muzzle brakes, and ergonomic changes that are commonly done by law-abiding gun owners to make their firearms more suitable for self-defense, competition, hunting, or even overcoming disability,” the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action reported on its website.
But Laura Cutilletta, legal director of Giffords Law Center, takes issue with the notion that trigger cranks add any value to hunting or range shooting.
“These devices make semi- automatic firearms particularly lethal, especially if they are in the wrong hands,” she said. “The federal restrictions on machine guns have been effective. These devices are an attempt to skirt those regulations. If the federal government doesn’t crack down on the use of these devices then states need to step in and do so.”
The bill’s secondary sponsor, Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, said he does not expect to see much controversy in the Senate over this bill, noting bipartisan support.
“I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” Zeiger said. “We need to enforce the existing laws we have rather than create new laws that restrict the rights of gun owners, but I do look for areas that we can have bipartisan support for measures that enhance public safety.”
Joe Waldron, legislative chairman of the Washington State Rifle and Pistol Association, said the legislation is a waste of time. The devices, he said, do not improve anything and degrade the accuracy of the firearm. Still, banning the device would only be another regulation that will not greatly increase public safety.
“We don’t have a Bill of Needs in this country. We have a Bill of Rights,” he said.
Dave Workman, senior editor of TheGunMag.com, said, “Any legislation that amounts to an outright ban on something is certainly going to draw challenges from gun owners.”
Until the shooting in Las Vegas, Workman and Waldron said, bump stocks had not been an issue and not many gun owners had heard of the device.
Cutilletta said that’s a misconception. Giffords Law Center was founded in response to a 1993 attack on San Francisco law firm Pettit & Martin, in which the shooter used a trigger activator that increased the gun’s rate of fire. In the so-called “101 Street Shooting,” Gian Luigi Ferri killed eight people before ending his own life.
The devices remain federally legal despite state laws in California and Massachusetts. “The stock has no automatically functioning mechanical parts or springs and performs no automatic mechanical function when installed,” John Spencer wrote in the 2010 letter responding to manufacturer Slide Fire’s evaluation request. Spencer is chief of the firearm technology branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“We find that the ‘bump stock’ is a firearm part and is not regulated as a firearm under [the] Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act.”
Shootings in 2017 have prompted lawmakers around the nation to begin thinking banning modifications intended to increase a weapon’s rate of fire.
— Taylor McAvoy is a reporter for the WNPA Olympia News Bureau