Gov. Jay Inslee has called for new gun regulations in Washington state following the shooting in Las Vegas this week that killed 59 people and injured more than 500 at a country music concert.
Inslee, a Democrat, specifically said Tuesday that state lawmakers should ban “bump stocks,” a device that can be used to modify a semi-automatic rifle so it can mimic a fully automatic weapon.
Police found two bump stocks in the hotel room where Las Vegas gunman, Stephen Paddock, 64, fired hundreds of rounds at concertgoers through a window.
The proposed ban could bring opposition from some Republicans, who have opposed other gun regulation in the Legislature in the past. The GOP currently controls the state Senate by a one-vote margin with the help of a conservative Democrat, potentially stifling gun-related legislation backed by Inslee.
Whether the bump stock ban has political legs is unclear, but Republicans didn’t quickly embrace the idea.
Sen. Mike Padden, a Republican from Spokane Valley who chairs the Senate’s Law and Justice Committee, released a statement late Wednesday saying legislators should ask themselves “whether any law can stop a madman determined to do evil.”
He did not take a stance on bump stocks but said he would consider “reasonable” gun legislation as long as it is effective at reducing gun violence and “protects constitutional rights.”
House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, a Republican from Snohomish, said he didn’t know enough about bump stocks yet to discuss whether banning them would be a good move.
Kristiansen said that generally, he believes attempts to regulate guns are misguided and don’t stop people intent on breaking laws from shooting people. He urged alternatives, such as tougher sentencing for people who have already committed gun crimes, saying they’re likely to offend again.
“We know who the offenders are,” Kristiansen said.
Inslee said the focus must be on guns, and said in a statement the Legislature must act to ban devices such as bump stocks that “turn legal semi-automatic firearms into lethal fully automatic machine guns.”
“We must make sure people intent on causing mass destruction and loss of life won’t be aided by lax laws that give them unfettered access to military-style weaponry,” Inslee said.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday the bump stock” originally was created to make it easier for people with disabilities to shoot a gun.
Manufacturers tout the stocks, some of which sell for less than $200, as offering a simple and affordable alternative to automatic weapons without the hassle of a rigorous background check and other restrictions.
The governor and other Democrats have pushed for stronger gun regulation in the last few years with little success.
One bill pushed by members of the party focused on gun owners who leave their firearms where a kid can get them easily. The legislation would have made it a gross misdemeanor for the firearm owner if a child used a gun in such a situation.
In the wake of a deadly shooting in Mukilteo last year, Inslee signed on to a proposal by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to ban “assault weapons,” a broad term that includes multiple types of guns, and limit the capacity of gun magazines.
Both measures stalled in the state House, where Democrats hold a 50-48 majority. The bills also gained no traction in the GOP-led Senate.
The Legislature did approve a measure this year that requires gun dealers in the state to report when a person tries to buy a gun and fails a background check.
More often, gun-regulation supporters have had success creating new laws by using the initiative process.
Washington voters approved a ballot measure in 2014 that created a law requiring background checks on all sales and transfers of guns, including private transactions and many loans and gifts. Last year, voters said “yes” to an initiative that allows courts to temporarily suspend a person’s access to guns if there is evidence they’re a threat to themselves or others.
The temporary gun bans are known as “extreme risk protection orders.”
Democrats might have more luck in Olympia this winter, depending on the results of a state Senate race in the Eastside suburbs of King County that could flip control of the Legislature. A special election for the seat is being held to find a replacement for state Sen. Andy Hill, a Republican from Redmond who died of lung cancer in 2016.
Democrat Manka Dhingra beat Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund in the primary race for the position by roughly 10 percentage points. If Dhingra wins in the general election, Democrats would likely have a one-vote majority in the state Senate.
Even if Democrats had slim majorities in the House and Senate, it’s unclear if they could push through gun regulations that are often controversial. Ferguson’s assault weapon ban did not get a public hearing from a committee ruled by his own party, squashing it’s chances quickly.
Laurie Jinkins, a Tacoma Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said Ferguson’s ban proposal might not have support if Democrats win the Senate, but said she believes a measure that would enhance background checks and licensing for assault weapons and large-capacity magazines could pass.
She also said the Legislature might be able to approve the safe gun storage bill and still is studying the bump stock ban idea.
Still, Kristiansen said he knows Democrats at the Capitol who are against many types of gun regulations and predicted the party would “have a very difficult time” passing legislation with full control of the Legislature.
Jinkins agreed that gun legislation might still need some support from Republicans to pass if Democrats own majorities in both chambers.
“Generally, partisan firearms legislation never makes it to the governors desk and so that’s what we want,” she said.
Inslee said no matter how the party divide shakes out in November elections, lawmakers should try to ban bump stocks. Gun laws already on the books in Washington are “a good start,” the governor said.
“But we can — and must — do more,” Inslee said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.