How Washington State Has Done on Gun Control

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Image by WorldSpectrum from Pixabay

If there’s one thing that unites Seattle mayors, it is the need for stronger gun controls. During his second term in 2008, Mayor Greg Nickels acted in response to a shooting that injured two bystanders at the Northwest Folklife Festival. Despite negative advice from Attorney General Rob McKenna about legalities, Mayor Nickels issued an administrative order that banned guns from all Seattle parks, Seattle Center, community centers, and city-owned buildings.

Nickels’ order was promptly challenged. In February, 2010, King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer ruled in favor of the Second Amendment Foundation, Citizens Committee to Bear Arms, and five plaintiffs. Second Amendment founder Alan Gottlieb vowed, “We will not tolerate anti-gun politicians who violate the law in order to pass laws to restrict our rights.” Nickels’ ban was found in violation of state law.

Fast forward some months and Nickels didn’t survive his reelection bid in the 2011 primary. That left the relatively unknown challengers Mike McGinn and Joe Mallahan to face off in the general election. The two challengers battled over Nickels’ attempt to reform gun laws with McGinn favoring the ban and Mallahan opposed. Mallahan threaded a needle by saying he didn’t favor the Second Amendment position but believed it would cost the taxpayers too much to defend the lawsuit in court.

In the end, Mallahan lost the election as well as his concern over a costly lawsuit. Attorney Steven Poole of the law firm of Orrick, Herrington and Sutliff volunteered to defend the gun ban pro bono. The only taxpayer expense was $2,500 for the “no-guns-allowed” signs Nickels had ordered posted in city parks.

After he was elected, Mayor McGinn also worked to restrict guns. Concerned over a mass shooting at Cafe Racer in the University District, McGinn upped the city’s gun buy-back project and kicked off a “go-gun-free” program. He pressed Seattle businesses to become no-gun establishments, exhibiting a “Gun Free Zone” decals in the window.

Once again, Bellevue-based gun-activist Gottlieb interceded, with this snarky comment: “If these businesses want to turn off their customer base, I guess they can do it.”

In the years since 2000, this city’s mayors and city councils have continually lobbied the State Legislature to pass stronger gun controls. The exercise has been futile. Despite Democrats having control of the Legislature, they have failed to pass legislation. It has fallen to groups like Washington CeaseFire to organize initiatives allowing citizens to vote on gun reforms. 

Thanks to financial backing from donors like the late Paul Allen and Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, Initiative 1693 finally reached the ballot in 2018, receiving 59 percent voter approval. Provisions of the legislation took effect in January, 2019, and raised the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21, required universal background checks and a 10-day waiting period to claim a rifle from a firearms dealer, as well as mandating safe gun storage.

The Washington Legislature finally ended its inaction with passage of a gun control measure this year. The bill, recently signed into law by Gov. Inslee, accomplished three goals: it prohibits sales of high-capacity gun magazines, restricts ghost guns, and limits firearms in government buildings and election spaces. The law goes into effect on July 1. 

This state does have some of the stricter gun laws in the country. Advocates rank Washington as 10th toughest in the nation. However, the recent Texas and New York tragedies show that we must continue to push for stronger gun controls at both state and national levels. Incredibly, sales of AK-15 rifles, a military weapon designed solely and specifically to kill people, remain legal in this state, though now restricted to those 21 or older. These semi-automatic rifles have no valid recreational use and should be banned entirely. 

At one time this nation agreed that the semi-automatics should not be available for civilian use. President Clinton signed such a ban in 1994, but it was not renewed when it expired in 2004. The Democratic-controlled House has passed gun legislation. But unless at least 10 Republican senators under Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have a sudden change of heart, another national ban seems highly unlikely. 

The grim realities of the gun lobby’s iron grasp on the Senate makes it imperative that citizens keep pressuring their elected representative to act to save lives. Children in this state and city, along with others across the nation, are marching. They plan a March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., June 11. Instructions say, “Wear Orange and Bring Signs.”

Jean Godden
Jean Godden
Jean Godden wrote columns first for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and late for the Seattle Times. In 2002, she quit to run for City Council where she served for 12 years. Since then she published a book of city stories titled “Citizen Jean.” She is now co-host of The Bridge aired on community station KMGP at 101.1 FM. You can email tips and comments to Jean at jgodden@blarg.net.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Jean, thanks for highlighting local actions undertaken. One important organization to recognize is the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility funded and organized initially by Nick Hanauer. This organization was founded after Sandy Hook and has been active statewide and has developed national connections. The Alliance has worked to balance common Second Amendment rights with personal responsibility of gun owners. They have also been active in Olympia and have led efforts to successfully pass three statewide initiatives:

    I-1639 (2018): raised the age to purchase semi-automatic assault rifles and more;
    I-1491 (2016): created Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs); and
    I-594 (2014): closed the background check loophole.

    I also want to acknowledge that Grandmothers Against Gun Violence have also taken to the streets in meaningful and noisy ways!

  2. The Alliance and Grandmothers do merit praise for their work. But so do the student groups that are active locally. There deserves to be credit all around. However guns are still taking lives in this state and others. Our neighbors to the North have shown us what can be done. They’ve banned assault weapons, restricted gun magazines to five shots and are working to reduce other firearms. Would that we could develop a similar resolve.

    • Please direct “us” to groups here in Seattle who are actively working on this banning/reducing endeavor right NOW!
      Thank you, Jean.

  3. An important reason for progress at the state level is the departure from the Speakership by Frank Chopp, and the widening of the comfort margin by House Democrats. In past years, Speaker Chopp prevented politically sensitive issues from getting to a vote — notably guns, abortion, and tax increases. That enabled him to hold onto a slender majority. I wonder if the emboldened Democrats may now be risking that majority.

  4. Guns don’t walk around killing people stop saying guns instead of people your quote “however guns are still taking lives.” Fool people are walking around killing people not guns that’s why highest percentage of killing in America is done with a melee weapon such as knives and hammers. Plus you wanna say or northern friends meaning Canada show us the way then why did a Canadian sheriff even say “ I’ve been doing this for 30 years and about 100% of the guns confiscated in Canada were brought there illegally” so what does that tell you other than you only wanna be like the Canadian prime minister that laughs and smiles every time he says his Canadian people don’t have right and are not aloud to protect them selfs. Ya sounds a communist to me

  5. This week, we saw the unspeakable tragedy of kids, not yet old enough to vote or drive, killing and being killed with guns. Tell me again, that guns aren’t the problem?

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