Gun control activists have been trying for years now to get an “assault weapons” ban passed in Washington State, and are closer than ever before after the state House approved a gun ban bill on Wednesday evening. While there was more bipartisan opposition to the ban than bipartisan support, thanks to the lopsided Democratic majority in OIympia supporters of the anti-gun legislation could afford to lose a few of their fellow Democrats on the issue, and in the end HB 1240 cleared the House on a 55-42 vote after just a couple hours of debate.
Citing an epidemic of mass shootings and other gun violence in the U.S. and in the state, Democrats have flexed their majorities to push forward the assault-weapon ban while also advancing other gun restrictions, including a 10-day waiting period for purchases and a bill that would hold gunmakers liable for negligent sales.
During the debate on the assault-weapons bill, Democrats pointed to a nonstop succession of mass shootings across the country that have claimed the lives of schoolchildren, teachers, churchgoers, nightclub patrons and others, gunned down by assailants frequently wielding assault-style weapons such as AR-15s.
State Rep. Darya Farivar, D-Seattle, lamented a modern cycle of “deaths, sadness, thoughts and prayers, and then back to business.” She said she has experienced a shooter lockdown, and she decried the fearful reality faced by schoolchildren. “Our young people deserve better, and our young people are saying this is not good enough.”
Republicans said the ban violates the federal and state constitutions and predicted it would be overturned by courts. They also argued it would not stop criminals or prevent mass shootings while infringing on the rights of law-abiding people seeking to defend their families.
“Firearms are the great equalizer,” said state Rep. Travis Couture, R-Allyn, Mason County, touting their use to defend against “all sorts of predators.” He said AR-15s and other weapons targeted by the bill are “not weapons of war” but are “the most popular firearms in our society.”
Rep. Joel McEntire, R-Cathlamet, argued the focus on guns is misplaced. “We don’t have a problem with rifles. We have a problem with moral decay,” he said.
Washington State is definitely trending in the wrong direction when it comes to violent crime, but it’s not because Democrats haven’t yet banned the sale of modern sporting rifles. Those guns aren’t used in a lot of crime to begin with, but as we’ve seen in cities like Washington, D.C. and Chicago, even bans on handguns don’t work to prevent criminal acts. The highest homicide rates on record in both cities happened back in the 1990s, long before their bans were struck down by the Supreme Court.
If the state’s Democratic majority is serious about making the state a safer place they wouldn’t be trying to criminalize the sale of the most commonly-sold rifles in the country. They’d be passing bills to stop Washington’s hemorrhaging of police officers.
Violent crimes and murders increased while the number of police officers available to respond to incidents decreased in 2021, according to a state crime report released by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC).
According to the report, violent crime overall, which includes murder, aggravated assault, robbery and rape, increased by 12.3% in 2021.
There were 325 murders in 2021, an increase of 5.9% over 2020, following a 47% increase the year before. Strachan said this is the highest number of murders recorded since WASPC began collecting this data in 1980.
“It is worth noting because it’s a reasonable question to ask, ‘What about the murder rate when you take into account population?’ You can see that the murder rate actually was slightly higher in the mid-90s and again in the late 80s. So we need to make sure that we’re using the data in a transparent way – highest number of murders in terms of numbers,” said Strachan.
The number of commissioned law enforcement officers decreased 4.4%. The per capita rate of law enforcement officers fell to 1.38 per 1,000 statewide.
“When the staffing is down, the numbers are up,” said Strachan.
Strachan said it is the lowest per capita rate of officers the state has seen since WASPC began tracking this data in 1980, and it’s the lowest in the nation.
The national average per capita rate for officers is 2.33 officers per 1,000, according to the FBI.
“Right now, a lot of agencies are treading water. Not every single one. Not every single agency is in a staffing crisis; many are,” said Strachan. “These things are problems with solutions, and that is to support good policing and to recognize that public safety is important.”
Seattle’s violent crime rate reached a 15-year high in 2022, surpassing the record set in 2021, according to a yearly crime report released by the Seattle Police Department (SPD).
New data released by SPD indicates that violent crime increased by 4% compared to 2021, which was the previous all-time high in reported crimes. Totals in 2022, however, surpassed the 2021 mark with 49,577 violent and property crimes. The department reported that aggravated assault and motor vehicle thefts were “significantly” high in 2022 compared to a five-year weighted average.
Officers investigated 52 homicides in 2022, an increase from 41 homicides in 2021. Of the 52 homicides in Seattle, 73% died from gun violence, according to the report.
The report indicated 2022 had the second-highest total homicides after 53 homicides were reported in 2020.
Police said shootings and shots fired reached an all-time in 2022. The previous high was 2021, followed by 2020, indicating a three-year trend in which shootings have increased.
If anyone thinks that HB 1240 is going to significantly change these statistics they’re deluding themselves. The individuals responsible for the increased violence across the state aren’t going to care if the sale of modern sporting rifles is prohibited by the state. HB 1240 is about chilling the right to keep and bear arms, not improving public safety. Thankfully Second Amendment groups are already planning litigation if the bill ends up being signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee, and the Democrats’ current jubilation is likely to be short-lived once the courts get involved.