Ag and Rural Caucus
Summary of Session
Thank you to everyone who joined Thursday conversation about firearms.
We took up 1) HB 1178: repeal of state preemption of gun control, to allow cities and counties to legislate more stringent control of firearms in their jurisdictions, 2) HB 1240: making illegal to manufacture or sell assault weapons (including semi-automatic pistols); and 3) HB 1143/1144: requiring a permit and/or firearm training to purchase a firearm in Washington.
HB 1188: The temperature of the meeting was “tepid” regarding repeal of state preemption. Most agreed that it would be complicated and ultimately ineffective. People were more comfortable with the idea after learning that the proposal would allow cities only to adopt more restrictive regulation – it would not allow cities and counties to relax gun regulation below current law.
HB 1240: We supported an assault weapon ban, pure and simple. Even knowing that 1) assault weapons are already tightly regulated by the state, 2) high-capacity magazines are illegal in Washington, 3) assault weapons are distinctive primarily for semi-automatic firing, 4) assault weapons account for only four percent or so of deaths by firearms, and 5) manufacturers and buyers would quickly find workarounds – we felt important to underline that killing of innocent children in school shootings has to stop. While assault weapons may kill fewer people than simpler pistols, assaults weapons account for an overwhelming share of deaths by mass shooters. We need to make a statement.
We talked about how to message our support for the proposed ban. In some ways, generating emotive support for banning assault weapons is easier than supporting legalistic regulation like requiring permits, but we had especial concern for our candidates answering hostile questions about their support for banning weapons protected by the Second Amendment. Several volunteers are working on the message. Thank you.
HB 1144: We were enthusiastic about the idea of fire arm training but also cautious about the content. Some training is very effective, other less so. We spent less time on questions around HB 1143 requiring a gun owner permit and registration in addition to a background check.
I brought up the issue of gun control in December to be prepared to react intelligently to proposals in the 2023 legislature. The content of our conversation has shown me that ARC members are invested in effective control of weapons. We want more. I will try to help move us from reaction to advocacy.
Stop the killing.
If we indeed want to be effective advocates we need to assess where we are. And where we are is that we have something like 400,000,000 firearms in this country. We are not going to disarm America.
About 40-45 percent of Americans own guns. Most Americans have guns or think it is OK.
Gun ownership is stable but 15-20 million more guns are sold each year. People who own guns buy more guns. One study has three percent of Americans owning 50 percent of the weapons. Rabid gun owners are a minority.
And where we are is that most people owning guns do not shoot people. They are hunters shooting deer and elk, men and women seeking personal security in the big city, sportspeople aiming at paper targets, and farmers scaring off coyotes.
It is this group that we want to split off from the Second Amendment Absolutists. We can label them Traditionalists. Absolutists label any regulation of firearms as violating their Second Amendment; Traditionalists see themselves as responsible and concede that no constitutional right is absolute.
Traditionalists are our potential allies in stopping the killing. We tend to lump Traditionalists with the Absolutists but we lose when we do. We lose because we give ground on personal security issues.
We can agree with Traditionalists that crimes committed with firearms should be aggressively prosecuted but reject the racist overtones that often accompany “get tough” arguments. We can agree with Traditionalists that we need law enforcement but add that it is community – families – that make the difference in personal security. We can even sign on to increased funding for law enforcement if it means taking urban police officers out of their armored vehicles and putting them on the neighborhood streets. We can agree with the Traditionalists that “people kill people” and then bus with them to Olympia to lobby for lots more dollars for mental health. And while driving we can agree to rigorous enforcement of red flag laws (extreme risk protection orders allowing individuals to petition the court to remove temporarily the firearms of a person judged a risk to self or others).
An approach that splits off the Traditionalists is also one that takes off the agenda a couple of our favored ideas. I have been intrigued by the idea of requiring gun owners to purchase insurance for their weapons. The City of San Jose is trying this. This is probably a distraction. It is simply an anti-gun measure. It does not move us further to stopping the killing. The same might be said for making the firearm manufacturers liable for the damage their products cause. It is tempting but pushes away allies. We need to recruit weapon manufacturers to be partners, out of their self-interest. They can lead a movement to make gun ownership respectable, and give them a leg up on their less responsible competitors. This means that we concede living with guns to stop the killing. Possible?
I am arguing for a goal of stopping the killing. We will need allies. And we may need to temper our discomfort with the idea of guns to earn the allies we need.
I appreciate that changing our language about guns is not the kind of advocacy that many of you expect. I ask you to re-consider. I know that seeking allies among gun owners is not popular.
Nick Ashmore, senior aide to Tom Foley, years ago told me that good politics was winning without leaving blood on the floor. This is what I am proposing, maybe because it is the only way we can win.
23 January 2023
Gun Control Bills
The table is set. At least four “gun control” bills have been introduced in the Legislature.
HB 1143: (18 co-sponsors); requires permit and training
HB 1144: (17 co-sponsors); requires training certificate
HB 1178: (15 co-sponsors); repeal state preemption to allow local governments adopt more restrictive regulation of firearms
HB 1240: (26 co-sponsors); prohibit manufacture or sale of “assault rifles”
House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee held its first public hearing yesterday, 17 January. I very much encourage you to view the hearing.
HB 1143 and 1144 are similar except that the latter does not require a permit in advance of purchase.
Opposition centers on the registry of permit holders (“unconstitutional”) created by 1143, and the purchaser’s expense for the required firearm training required by both.
|Representative Walsh (LD 19) in the hearing makes much of the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision from June, 2022. |
Since Heller and McDonald, the Courts of Appeals have developed a “two-step” framework for analyzing Second Amendment challenges that combines history with means-end scrutiny. The Court rejects that two-part approach as having one step too many (emphasis added).
“Means-end scrutiny” here means questioning a permit applicant’s reasons for carrying a firearm. The overturned New York law required the applicant to have a good reason over and above his/her right to a firearm: An individual who wants to carry a firearm outside his home may obtain an unrestricted license to “have and carry” a concealed “pistol or revolver” if he can prove that “proper cause exists” for doing so.
The Bruen decision is written by Justice Thomas. It is an example of “original intent” thinking. Take a look.
A more familiar theme is that advocates are “weak on crime”. The solution is, instead, to tighten the penal system.
HB 1178 repeals Washington’s state preemption of gun regulation. Local governments can make more restrictive regulation. My reading, however, is that local governments are still required to observe minimum state requirements (see below).
HB 1240 bans assault rifles. Its language preempts the usual complaint that the category of “assault” rifle is fiction, by providing detailed language about the targeted firearms.
Status Quo Ante
Washington bans “bump stocks” (which enables semi-automatic weapons to fire automatically), ghost weapons, and high-capacity magazines, and imposes exceptional regulations on purchase:
No dealer may deliver a semiautomatic assault rifle to the purchaser until: (1) the purchaser provides proof they have completed a recognized firearm safety training program within the last five years; (2) the dealer is notified by the chief of police or sheriff that the purchaser is eligible to possess a firearm and the purchase is approved; and (3) 10 business days have elapsed since the purchase application or, in the case of a transfer, 10 business days have elapsed from the date a background check was initiated. • The purchaser of a semiautomatic assault rifle must be personally known to the dealer or present clear evidence of his or her identity. • Subject to various exceptions, a person under 21 years of age may not purchase a semiautomatic assault rifle, and no person may sell or transfer a semiautomatic assault rifle to a person under 21 years of age
Assault weapons in Washington are regulated by prohibiting the sale of magazines holding more than 10 cartridges. The ammunition is similar to that used in hunting rifles like the 30-06 for hunting. The distinctive feature of assault weapons is that they are semi-automatic.
Assault rifles get our attention because they are disproportionately used in “mass murders” where six or more people are killed. Assault weapons make up about five percent of private firearms in this country (20,000,000 out of 400,000,000 total). They account for about four percent of gun deaths, but about two-thirds of deaths from “mass murder”.
Opponents claim banning assault weapons is glory seeking by urban liberals. They correctly point out that handguns – not assault rifles – account for sixty percent of gun deaths (with nearly forty percent not identified). Opponents claim that it is hypocritical to ban assault rifles when handguns kill more people.: Regardless of the definition being used, fatalities in mass shooting incidents in the U.S. account for a small fraction of all gun murders that occur nationwide each year.
Opponents also note, again correctly, that banning assault rifles does not address suicide deaths by firearm, more than half (54%) of all deaths by firearm and about half (53%) of all suicides. The recurring theme is that people are the problem, not the gun.
Finally, Steve Starr alerted me to gun homicides in rural communities: From 2016 to 2020, 13 of the 20 U.S. counties with the most gun homicides per capita were rural: 80 percent of these 20 counties are in states that received an “F” grade for their weak gun laws, according to Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence
Join us tomorrow evening to talk about firearms, deaths by firearms, and gun control.
18 January 2023
Potpourri: Elections, State Meeting, Guns
Thursday we will do a mix of things.
First, we will do reorganization. I will turn the meeting over to a neutral party who will then announce that no one other than the current office holders were nominated to run for 2023-2025 office. This means that I will return as chair, Teresa Purcell as Vice Chair – West, Robert Schutte as Vice-Chair East, Claus Joens as Secretary, and Marty Gilmore as Treasurer. (Robert and I wrote candidate statements. Follow the links.)
We have good geographic spread: Walla Walla County, Cowlitz County, Pend O’Reille, Whatcom, and Jefferson. We have the corners covered. We are short on the middle but we have really strong CD 4 participation in the Policy Committee.
I encourage everyone to participate in our various meetings and programs. ARC proceedings thrive because they are open.
Second, we will anticipate State Party reorganization with announcements and field questions from new state committee people about what to expect. I will share plans for ARC in Olympia (ARC caucus meeting; social event).
Third, we will return to talking about fire arm regulation – gun control. We will talk about guns but not act. We need to address this third-rail of rural politics because it is on the state’s agenda. We did not put it on the state’s agenda but there is no better place than ARC to talk about guns.
We owe it our rural candidates to make sense of the facts about guns in Washington and about proposals coming from our urban colleagues.
I received a handful of excellent responses to my December invitation to comment. Thank you. Our ARC members cover the range of positions, including the middle of not knowing quite what we should do.
To set the stage boundaries, I direct you to the Alliance for Gun Responsibility for the new agenda, and to Senator Phil Fortunato’s (LD 31-Auburn) GOP response.
See you Thursday.
16 January 2023
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