Washington Lawmakers introduce new gun legislation late in session

With less than two weeks left in the session, state lawmakers introduced a new bill in response to the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

SB 6620, and its companion in the House, HB 3004, introduced Friday, Feb. 23, would create a mechanism for students to report dangerous behavior and would require the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to allocate grants to school districts to implement emergency response systems.

It also raises the age to purchase an assault rifle from 18 to 21. The Parkland shooter was reported to be a 19-year-old who had legally purchased an AR-15 rifle.

And, in bringing back a debate from a previous bill, the new bill would require that purchaser to undergo a federal and state background check as well.

“You cannot really address this issue in full unless you do some reasonable things around these particular firearms that are being used over and over in mass killings,” said the Senate bill’s prime sponsor and Vice Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee David Frockt, D-Seattle.

The bill was scheduled for a hearing with less than 24-hour notice and lawmakers voted to suspend the five-day public notice requirement, yet the Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing room was packed with people on both sides of the issue on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

According to Frockt, the new gun bill would allocate $700,000 in the operating budget to schools for implementation of response and reporting programs. The bill also raises the licensing fee for dealers from $125 to $150 per year.

Because the fee increase and the funding for the program would affect the budget, the bill can be moved through committee without the deadlines facing bills that have no impact on the budget.

“I think we’re in a real desperate situation, and the public wants action and not just talk,” Frockt said.

Washington state has not been immune to gun violence. In July 2016, a 19-year-old purchased an assault rifle legally from Cabelas and killed three people at a house party in Mukilteo.

Paul Kramer testified in support of the bill at its hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 27. He spoke about his son, Will, who was seriously injured in that shooting.

“Were this proposed bill in effect as law two years ago, the Mukilteo shooting wouldn’t have happened as it did,” he said.

“There was nothing marginal about those lives,” Adam Cornell, a prosecuting attorney in Snohomish County, said. “And there was nothing marginal about the lives of those who died in Parkland and all the other mass shootings that have happened in this country, and will continue to happen if we don’t do something about it.”

Washington state school shootings in recent years include one at Marysville Pilchuck High School in October 2014 when a student killed four others and himself, and another in at Freeman High School in September 2017 when a student killed one classmate and wounded three others.

A senior at Ingraham High School in Seattle and president of her school’s Junior State of America chapter, a political activism club, Johna Munsen, 18, testified in support of the bill.

Now that conversations around school shootings are coming up more and more in national dialogue, she said, people are starting to take notice of student voices. Her school and others around the nation are planning a school walkout on March 14 to protest gun violence.

“The whole point of this movement is just common sense and preventing tragedy,” she said. “It’s not trying to take away the Second Amendment.”

The bill would infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners and ignores the fact that most shootings are committed with handguns, Keely Hopkins, state liaison for the National Rifle Association said.

“The folks most likely to be affected by this are the least likely to commit crimes,” said Brett Bass of the Bellevue Gun Club and firearms instructor.

Gun regulations should be considered a separate issue from school safety measures, Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, said.

“Banning long guns from the possession of 18-year-olds is not going to solve this problem,” he said. “Better security is.”

Sheldon, one of the few rural Democrats in the state, said lawmakers are not considering the state’s constituency in the urban/rural divide. He added that while the bill only affects those 18 to 21-year-olds, it chips away at Second Amendment rights.

But the issues of school safety, education programs, and gun restrictions are appropriately coupled according to Jeoff Potter, CEO and policy director for the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.

“Components of this bill, whether it’s the school safety pieces or the firearm pieces taken together as one single bill; they are the consensus for the position on firearms and safety in the country,” he said.

The bill has until March 8 to become law. The prime sponsor, Frockt, is optimistic that it has the support it needs to pass despite no Republican sponsors listed on the bill.

Gov. Inslee confronted President Donald Trump on Monday, Feb. 26, during a meeting with state governors at the White House.

“You have a gun-free zone, it’s like an invitation for these very sick people to go there,” Trump said.

He suggested that teachers who are adept with guns should be allowed to bring them to schools in order to protect children.

“Educators should educate, and they should not be foist upon this responsibility of packing heat in first-grade classes,” Inslee responded.

Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, proposed a similar idea to arm teachers who are trained to use firearms during a Republican leadership media availability on Feb. 15, the day after the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“This is not a gun issue, this is a mental health issue,” Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said at a press conference on Feb. 15.

Wilson said a proposal to raise the age limit on assault rifles wouldn’t address the root cause of school shootings, and lawmakers should focus on mental health and reporting programs instead.