Proposals to more stringently regulate firearms have been revived in Washington's Legislature after the national conversation on gun control shifted in the wake of the recent massacre at a high school in Florida.
Rick Scott, the Republican governor of Florida, and Marco Rubio, a prominent Republican U.S. senator from that state, bucked the National Rifle Association by coming out last week in favor of increasing age limits for buying a category of semi-automatic guns sometimes described as assault weapons.
State Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, says Washington’s Legislature should follow their lead even though his bill to beef up restrictions on guns like the AR-15 used to kill 17 people at a school in Parkland, Florida, missed a key legislative deadline earlier in the session. It faced resistance from some centrist Democrats and strong opposition from Republicans.
“We cannot be behind the times in Washington and ignore the national conversation,” Frockt said in an interview Friday.
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Frockt introduced a new bill Friday to raise the age limit for buying certain semi-automatic rifles and shotguns in Washington to 21 and subject buyers to more stringent local background checks. Those requirements currently must be met for someone to buy a handgun in the state.
Frockt said he hopes the national conversation has swayed enough lawmakers to pass his new bill out of the state Senate. It was heard in a Senate fiscal committee Tuesday morning.
Besides the gun regulations, the measure also comes with added provisions aimed at increasing school safety.
It would set up a grant program for schools to better coordinate emergency responses with local law enforcement. In the aim of winning Republican votes, the bill would implement a version of a GOP-backed program that adds ways for youth to anonymously report suspicious behavior or threats.
Among other changes aimed at appeasing gun advocates, it also has a narrower list of weapons that would be restricted and rewords the measure to not label any guns as “assault weapons.”
Still, the tweaks — and national talk of new gun laws — have not won over some Republicans.
Rep. Matt Manweller, an Ellensburg Republican who sponsored the bill for school kids to report threats, said in a statement he is “disappointed that my bipartisan school safety bill was attached to a gun bill.”
“One of the more appealing facets of my bill is that it improved school safety without limiting 2nd Amendment rights,” Manweller said.
Sen. Phil Fortunato, a Republican from Auburn, told The News Tribune and The Olympian on Monday that he believes other guns and weapons can be just as deadly in attacks and that focus on semi-automatic rifles is misguided.
Fortunato also said if 18-year-olds are old enough to vote they should be able to buy such a weapon.
“If you’re telling me they’re not competent enough to buy a gun why are you giving them the right to vote?” he said.
Fortunato advocated for greater enforcement of existing laws blocking people with histories of mental illness or violence from accessing guns.
“Is the problem a 19-year-old buying a gun?” Fortunato said. “No, the problem is a mentally unstable 19-year-old buying a gun.”
In the Parkland shooting, authorities say unsettling behavior of Nikolas Cruz was reported to local law enforcement many times over the years and the FBI received multiple tips about Cruz.
Opponents of raising the minimum age to buy semi-automatic rifles also point to data analysis by the group Everytown For Gun Safety, which shows that out of 156 mass shootings between 2009 and 2016 only two were committed by people younger than 21 using guns classified as assault weapons.
Still, young people using such guns to kill has happened in Washington. In 2016, Allen Ivanov killed three people and injured another at a house party in Mukilteo. He was 19 at the time.
Semi-automatic rifles also have been commonly used in recent mass shootings, such as the ones in Las Vegas, Newtown, Conn., and San Bernadino, Calif.
Fortunato said he expects some more centrist Republicans to join Democrats in voting for Frockt’s bill if it reaches the floor. But Democrats still have to secure the votes of some pro-gun members of their own party.
If the measure passes the Senate, the same dynamics will be at play in the House. Democrats control both chambers by narrow margins.
So far this year, lawmakers have worked to pass some more modest gun regulations. The Senate Tuesday approved a ban on “bump stocks,” a modification that can be used to make a semi-automatic rifle mimic a fully automatic gun. The measure now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for consideration.
State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, a Tacoma Democrat, said in a floor speech Friday that banning bump stocks is “the absolute least thing we can do” following the Parkland shooting.
Jinkins introduced a companion measure to Frockt’s bill in the House. Frockt said he hopes there is political will to pass it.
“I think that the Parkland shooting has changed the calculus in this country and even in Washington I hope,” he said.