Washington state bans AR-15 sales, requires training and waiting period for new gun buys

A salesman cleared the chamber of an AR-15 at a gun store in Provo, Utah, in this file photo from 2016. (OSV News Photo by George Frey, Reuters)

By Kate Scanlon

Washington state enacted a new law April 25 banning the sale, manufacture and import of assault weapons, or military-style semi-automatic firearms such as the AR-15, a weapon that has been used in some of the recent mass shootings in the United States.

The legislation, House Bill 1240 does not ban the current possession of these semiautomatic weapons by gun owners and has exceptions for ownership by law enforcement or military members. It also has exceptions for import into the state in cases of inheritance.

The office of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee stated Washington is now one of 10 states in America with a ban on assault weapons and one of a few states with a waiting period and training requirement for all gun purchases.

Inslee signed into law HB 1143, which the governor’s office explained requires prospective gun owners in Washington to first complete a training course that covers proper storage, usage and transportation of firearms, an explanation of self-defense law, how to peacefully de-escalate arguments and risk awareness of firearms to children and people with suicidal thoughts.

According to the group Everytown, which supports greater gun regulation measures, nine states have adopted waiting period laws for gun buyers. Proponents of waiting periods say they can reduce suicides and other crime, but opponents such as the National Rifle Association say they are “arbitrary impositions.”

SB 5078, another measure approved by the governor, also permits consumers to sue firearm manufacturers or retailers for irresponsible conduct.

“Today Washington state is putting the gun industry in its place and improving the health, safety and lives of our residents,” Inslee said. “I want to thank the many legislators and advocates who have worked for years to deliver some of these policies to the governor’s desk.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a national ban on assault weapons, a term that refers to military-style semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and pistols fed by ammunition magazines of various capacities. Most AR-15 rifles, one of the weapons just banned by Washington state, come with 30-round magazines, but their manufacturers have developed larger capacities for the semi-automatic platform, including 100-round capacity. These weapons allow a shooter to maintain a steady rate of fire with more infrequent pauses for reloading once the magazine is depleted.

The U.S. bishops have said they support an assault weapons ban similar to the one they supported in the 1994 crime bill, which Congress allowed to expire in 2004. They also support other gun safety measures including universal background checks and limitations on civilian access to high-capacity ammunition magazines.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at an April 25 press briefing that President Joe Biden “commends the leadership of Washington Governor Jay Inslee and legislative leaders, as well as the advocates, survivors and elected officials who fought for years to make today a reality.”

“In so doing this, they have made every community in the state, from Seattle to Spokane, and everywhere in between, safer and more secure,” Jean-Pierre said.

Last May at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers. Subsequent reports showed the murderer had legally purchased two AR-15 rifles and 1,600 rounds of ammunition following his 18th birthday. A week later, he carried out the massacre.

In response to that shooting, Congress passed a modest gun safety bill — the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — that expanded the background check system for prospective gun buyers under 21 years old, closed a provision known as the “boyfriend loophole,” banning domestic abusers from purchasing firearms regardless of their marital status, and funded new investments in mental health resources. That legislation was supported by the U.S. bishops.

However, it is not clear that the legislation’s provisions would necessarily have stopped the Uvalde shooter, who had no juvenile record, from legally purchasing a gun. More recently, the shooters in Nashville, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky, also legally acquired tactical-style semi-automatic weapons, which they used to carry out their respective school and workplace massacres.

Biden has touted the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, but has called for Congress to pass additional measures including universal background checks and a federal assault weapons ban. Neither measure currently has the requisite support to pass either chamber.

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