Why Did So Many Gun Control Bills Fail to Cross Over in Washington State?

AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File

Over the past decade, gun control activists have steadily chipped away at the right to keep and bear arms in Washington State, with new measures being enacted into law almost every year, either through legislation or voter referendums. This year is no exception, but the gun-related bills that managed to make it out of their house of origin before the crossover deadline this week aren't exactly the big-ticket infringements that the gun control lobby was expecting to see signed into law. 


That's not to say the bills that are still alive don't pose a threat to the Second Amendment, however. The House approved three pieces of gun control legislation before this week's deadline passed. HB 2118 would impose a number of new mandates on gun stores, including a requirement that all sales be conducted with video surveillance. Recorded video would have to be maintained on a server for two years, which is going to require a massive amount of storage space and cost gun stores a ton of moneyMany smaller stores simply won't be able to afford the cost of compliance, and this provision alone could lead to a host of mom-and-pop gun shops closing their doors for good. 

The House also passed a bill amending the state's current "lost or stolen" law to require gun owners to report the theft or loss of firearms within 24 hours instead of the five days allotted under existing statute, as well as a measure requiring the Washinton State Patrol to destroy any firearms they collect that were used in a crime or illegally possessed, rather than allowing them to be auctioned off. 

The Senate, meanwhile, approved a "sensitive place" bill of sorts that would prohibit firearms from being carried in public libraries, zoos, aquariums, and transit facilities unless someone possesses a concealed carry permit. 

Again, none of these are good bills by any means, but the anti-gunners failed to move several other bills that took a far bigger bite out of our Second Amendment rights. 


Amid such calls for more action, and even with Democrats holding solid majorities in the state House and Senate, some major new gun restrictions sought by gun-safety groups have languished in the ongoing 60-day legislative session, which runs through March 7.

Notably, a proposal to require a permit to buy firearms did not even get out of committee. Also stalled are a proposed tax on ammunition, a requirement for gun owners to buy insurance, a limit on the number of guns someone can buy at once, and a bill supported by Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell repealing a state law that mostly prohibits cities from enacting their own gun restrictions. 

... State Rep. Liz Berry, D-Seattle, chief sponsor of the stalled gun permit bill, as well as the still-moving theft reporting bill, said in an interview “there is not a loss of appetite” among the public and Democrats for further gun laws. She said she hears constantly from constituents and particularly young people traumatized by the continuing stream of school shootings.

But, she said, Democrats and advocates decided to strategically concentrate on “low hanging fruit” this session and would return to the more consequential bills next year — including the permit to buy guns.

“That is the next big thing that we want to do, and I am going to get it done next year,” Berry said.

If Berry really believed that a gun licensing law was vital to public safety, she'd be raising hell about the decision to place her bill on the back burner this session. So why did Democrats in the legislature and anti-gun advocates decide to go after "low hanging fruit" instead of aiming high this session, especially since they have the numbers, at least on paper, to approve every one of the gun control bills that failed to crossover? 


My guess is that they're worried that the voter backlash to these bills would be greater than the boost they might get from their base if these new infringements were enacted into law. It's not like they're backing away from their support for any of these restrictions, they're just delaying action until after voters head to the polls in November. 

Every seat in the state legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives will be up for grabs this fall, along with the governor's office, the Senate seat currently held by Maria Cantwell, and and the decision to "strategically concentrate on low hanging fruit" may very well have actually been a strategic decision to go small on gun control in the hopes of not riling up conservatives, especially in places like Washington's Third Congressional District, where Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez is defending a seat she won by less than 1 percent in 2022. 

Washington State Democrats may claim that gun control is incredibly popular in the state, but they're certainly not acting like it's a winning issue this year. Gun owners shouldn't be complacent, however. Berry and other anti-gun lawmakers have already signaled that this year's session is light on gun control for a reason, but they'll be energetically attacking our right to keep and bear arms just as soon as the votes have been tabulated in November. In order to stop those bad bills from becoming law next year, gun owners will need to turn up at the polls and vote out those politicians who view our Second Amendment rights as a wrong that must be taken from us. 


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