This upcoming legislative session, State Attorney General Bob Ferguson will propose legislation to ban assault rifles and limit magazine capacities, and a UW professor’s research backs the reasoning.
“The motivation is pretty straightforward,” Ferguson said. “I think it’s hard to see what’s been happening around our country with mass shootings and not feel a desire to propose a change.”
Ferguson first made the announcement in September, and said key stakeholders are David Frockt (D-Seattle) and Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island).
While many speculate that Ferguson created this legislation after the Mukilteo mass shooting, in which a 19-year-old used an AR-15, Ferguson said he was working on the legislation well before the local tragedy.
In addition, the shooter had used a 30-round magazine, and Ferguson’s legislation limits a magazine to 10 rounds for any gun.
“I felt it was time to take a position and try to lead on this issue,” Ferguson said. “What happened in Mukilteo only reinforced that feeling.”
Dr. Frederick Rivara of the UW and the Child Health Institute, professor of pediatrics, said the legislation seems sensible.
Rivara has worked on multiple studies involving gunshot wounds, gun ownership, and gun violence. Currently, he’s working on an intervention trial, screening patients in Harborview who come in with gunshot wounds. He then does case management, and sees if it will prevent recidivism (the same patient returning with more wounds, dying, or going to jail).
“[The legislation] is unlikely to have a huge affect on gun violence because assault weapons make up a small portion of gun injuries and deaths,” Rivara said. “On the other hand, they’re involved in mass shootings.”
While Rivara notes that, in the overall scheme of things, assault weapons don’t exactly account for the most amount of deaths, they seem to be used explicitly for mass shootings.
“They don’t have any legitimate purpose in terms of hunting or self protection,” Ferguson said. “An assault weapon is exactly that. It’s something that’s meant to kill. It’s meant to kill a lot of people in a short period of time, and I don’t see how that has legitimate use in a civilian population.”
Just this past weekend, a suspect opened fire in the Burlington Cascade Mall with a rifle, killing five people.
“The Mukilteo shooting made clear that these mass shootings with weapons like AR-15’s happen here in our home state,” Ferguson said.
Cascade Mall is the seventh mass shooting in Washington just this year.
“The reason that the U.S. has a high rate of gun deaths is because of the accessibility of guns,” Rivara said. “So I think common sense proceeds us to both limit the kinds of guns available and to prevent ownership of guns.”
Rivara also noted that you have to be 21 years old to legally buy a handgun in Washington, but you only have to be 18 to get an assault rifle. The state attorney confirmed this as well.
Ferguson proposes six to 10 legislative bills every session. Given the constituent push-back from the National Rifle Association every year, getting this piece of legislation to pass will be difficult. The state attorney called the gun lobby “formidable.”
“Will this be a challenge? You bet. Is it uphill? Absolutely,” Ferguson said. “It’s not going to be easy to get this through; I’m acutely aware of that. But I think it’s important to propose it and then to give it my best shot.”
But six other states have already adopted legislation banning assault weapons, according to Ferguson.
Meanwhile, on the UW campus, the Washington Administrative Code states that to carry a firearm on campus, a student needs written approval from the UW police chief or a person designated by the president of the UW.
UW Police Chief John N. Vinson was contacted for an interview by The Daily but was unresponsive. UWPD Commander Steve Rittereiser speculated, however, that such approval would likely need some kind of educational purpose.
Students and other Washingtonians can weigh in on Ferguson’s legislation before it is voted on in the next legislative session. People can write to their representatives, provide public testimony during hearings, and engage in rallies.
“I encourage people in the state of Washington, whether in support or opposition, to engage in the issue,” Ferguson said. “It’s an important one.”