Politics & Government

Ballot measure launched to raise age to buy semi-automatic weapons

FILE - In this April 10, 2013 file photo, craftsman Veetek Witkowski holds a newly assembled AR-15 rifle at the Stag Arms company in New Britain, Conn. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
FILE - In this April 10, 2013 file photo, craftsman Veetek Witkowski holds a newly assembled AR-15 rifle at the Stag Arms company in New Britain, Conn. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File) AP

An organization that promotes tougher gun regulations said Friday it has proposed a ballot measure that would raise the minimum age to buy semi-automatic weapons in Washington from 18 to 21 and enact other new restrictions.

The initiative plan comes after the state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature opted not to boost the minimum age to buy assault-weapons in the wake of the February mass shooting at a Florida high school.

Frustrated lawmakers who wanted the legal change asked the state’s voters to take up the issue instead. The Alliance for Gun Responsibility has answered the call. The group needs roughly 260,000 petition signatures before the initiative qualifies for the 2018 ballot.

Republicans have largely opposed raising the minimum age for buying assault weapons, saying they would prefer to try to reduce gun violence in others ways, such improvements to the state’s lagging mental health system, new school safety strategies and better enforcement of existing laws.

On Friday, gun responsibility alliance CEO Renée Hopkins said in a statement that semi-automatic weapons are “designed to kill people” and that further regulation is needed to save lives.

“Shootings involving these weapons have resulted in hundreds of lives lost, hundreds of devastating injuries and lasting psychological impacts on the survivors of these tragic events, their families and our communities,” Hopkins said.

Besides raising the minimum age to buy semi-automatic weapons, the proposed ballot measure would:

Require local law enforcement background checks for purchases of semi-automatic weapons. Those background checks are currently required when buying a handgun.

Hold gun owners legally responsible if a child uses a gun that was stored unsafely.

Provide a warning to people when they buy a gun of dangers involved with owning a firearm.

Require a waiting period of up to 10 days for the purchase of an “assault weapon.”

Create a process for the state to continually check that gun owners are eligible to keep their weapon.

Hopkins also sent a message to lawmakers hesitant to enact far-reaching gun regulations in 2018 by promising “extensive work with voters” to “elect more gun responsibility champions.”

Even though Democrats controlled both the House and Senate this year for the first time since 2012, enough Republicans and conservative-leaning Democrats opposed some of the stricter gun proposals to stall the measures.

Democrats have a House 50-48 majority in the House and a 25-24 voting majority in the Senate.

State Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Puyallup, opposed many of the proposals in the ballot measure when they were in front of the Legislature. He said Friday they would inconvenience “law abiding people” while being ineffective in stopping violence.

Fortunato has long opposed raising the minimum wage for buying semi-automatic rifles, saying if people aren’t capable of safely owning a gun before age 21, they shouldn’t be allowed to vote until that age.

He argued for better reporting of mental health records to the FBI as one alternative to the ballot measure. Many states don’t report those records, meaning some dangerous people can pass background checks, according to the Giffords Law Center, which studies gun violence.

The Air Force said last year it didn’t report dozens of service members who were charged or convicted of serious assault to federal authorities, including in the case of Devin Kelley, who bought weapons legally that he used to kill more than two dozen people in a Texas church.

State Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, also pushed for a bill to aid school kids in reporting threats.

State lawmakers did enact some new gun regulations in 2016.

They banned bump stocks, a device used to modify a semi-automatic weapon to shoot faster. The gunman in the Las Vegas massacre used bump stocks in a rampage that left nearly 60 people dead.

Legislators also passed a measure that allows people who are suicidal or are under mental distress to voluntarily give up their right to buy or keep guns.

Hopkins said the efforts did not go far enough. The gun alliance noted semi-automatic rifles have been used in many high-profile shootings recently.

One of those incidents was in Mukilteo in 2016. Allen Ivanov, then 19, used an AR-15 rifle to kill three and injure another.

“We need comprehensive reform when it comes to assault weapons,” Hopkins said. “Teens should not be able to possess these dangerous weapons.”

Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826, @walkerorenstein