Bills include new proposal to ensure firearms industry faces consequences for irresponsible practices
OLYMPIA — At a press event in Tukwila today, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Gov. Jay Inslee announced they will jointly request two common-sense public safety measures for the upcoming legislative session. One renews the call for a ban the sale of military-style assault weapons. A second, new proposal will ensure that gun manufacturers and dealers — like other purveyors of dangerous goods — must take reasonable steps to prevent their products from getting into the hands of dangerous individuals.
The Firearm Industry Responsibility & Gun Violence Victims’ Access to Justice Act ensures that firearms manufacturers and sellers will face liability if they fail to establish, implement and enforce reasonable controls in the manufacture, sale, distribution and marketing of firearms. The bill ensures that victims have access to justice when the firearms industry fails to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, and Rep. David Hackney, D-Tukwila.
The second bill, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, and Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, renews Ferguson’s call for a ban on the sale, manufacture or importation of military-style assault weapons. This is the second time Gov. Inslee has joined Ferguson to call for a ban on the sale of assault weapons.
Two different statewide polls in the last year show that Washingtonians overwhelmingly support banning assault weapons.
A July poll, sponsored by The Seattle Times, KING 5, the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public and Washington State University’s Murrow College of Communication, found that more than 60 percent of Washingtonians support a ban on assault weapons in the state. More Washingtonians supported a ban than opposed it on both sides of the Cascades, the poll found.
A poll released in June performed by Public Policy Polling for the Northwest Progressive Institute similarly found that 56 percent of Washington voters support a ban on the sale of assault weapons.
In the last decade, Washington state voters have overwhelmingly backed common-sense firearms safety laws proposed as statewide initiatives. Since 2014, voters have approved initiatives closing background check loopholes (nearly 60 percent of the vote), creating extreme risk protection orders (more than 70 percent) and raising the age to purchase and mandating enhanced background checks for semi-automatic rifles, as well as creating safe storage standards (nearly 60 percent).
“These policies will save lives, and ensure that the gun industry faces real consequences for irresponsible sales and marketing practices,” Ferguson said. “It’s time to act.”
“I’m proud to stand alongside Attorney General Bob Ferguson once again on this issue,” Gov. Inslee said. “I am sick and tired of the drumbeat of headlines announcing devastating losses of life due to gun violence. I want kids safe at school. I want crowds safe at concerts. I want police safe on the job.”
“Our state can and should hold irresponsible gun dealers and manufacturers civilly liable for the harms their products cause,” Sen. Pedersen said. “We have taken this approach for decades with automobiles, pharmaceuticals, toxic building materials and other dangerous products, dramatically improving public safety.”
“All businesses should be held accountable for harm that they cause, both intentional harm — like flooding the market with more firearms that can be reasonably sold by licensed dealers — or unintentional harm caused by irresponsible business practices,” Rep. Hackney said.
“We’re done coddling the gun lobby and we can’t sit around and wait for action on the national scale,” Sen. Kuderer said. “In Washington state, we can stand up to special interest groups that would see guns in the hands of teenagers and children. It’s disingenuous and wrong when the gun lobby and advocates for weapons of war say that we need guns everywhere. They say an increase in accessibility will solve the nationwide increase in crime, but it won’t and it hasn’t. Just last year we saw a jump in gun-related crimes across our state and country, even in Republican controlled states — which they have yet to speak out on. I’ve spoken to students. They want adults to be adults and they are sick and tired of being used as target practice. I don’t blame them. Kids and students feeling unsafe in their own classrooms is an absolute moral failing of this country. I won’t stand idly by while that happens."
“It has become a grim duty for elected officials, reacting to the news of yet another mass shooting,” Rep. Peterson said. “Whether in Texas or Colorado or Mukilteo, the needless violence and loss of life do not become easier to bear or less harmful to the soul of our nation. We must do more than offer condolences and vague promises of action. We know that assault weapons make mass shootings more deadly, we know that they are the weapon of choice for mass shooters. These weapons of war have no place in our communities or on our streets. It is time for the Legislature to take decisive action and ban the sale and distribution of these killing machines. This will not solve gun violence, but it will unequivocally save lives, and that is the north star that should guide us.”
Firearm Industry Responsibility and Gun Violence Victims’ Access to Justice Act
In 2002, 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo and 41-year-old John Allen Muhammad killed 10 people and wounded three others in Washington, D.C., over several weeks, in what became known as the Beltway sniper attacks.
The two attackers used a rifle that Malvo stole from a Tacoma gun store. An investigation found that not only did the gun store have no idea the weapon had been stolen, but it could not account for hundreds of other weapons it should have had in its inventory. The gun dealer’s negligence led to a successful lawsuit against the gun store and the manufacturer that provided $2.5 million to the victims’ families. Unfortunately, changes in federal law have shielded the gun industry from liability and barred lawsuits like this one — even when their negligence is provable.
That law, the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), shields gun manufacturers and sellers from liability in some circumstances. However, Congress invited states to regulate firearm sales and marketing practices by exempting such state laws from PLCAA.
The Firearm Industry Responsibility and Gun Violence Victims’ Access to Justice Act requires firearm industry members who conduct business in Washington state to establish, implement and enforce reasonable controls regarding the manufacture, sale, distribution, importing, use and marketing of the firearm industry member’s firearm-related products. A violation of the act is a violation of the state Consumer Protection Act and its public nuisance law. The bill ensures access to justice for those injured or killed as a result of illegal firearms industry conduct, allowing them or their families to pursue damages under Washington law.
Banning the sale of assault weapons
Assault weapons have been used in some of the deadliest shootings over the last decade and are increasingly used to perpetrate mass shootings. According to an Attorney General’s Office analysis of mass shooting data, they are 11 times more likely than a handgun to be used in a mass shooting. Assault weapons are also seven times more likely to kill law enforcement than any other firearm.
This legislation prohibits the sale, manufacture, and import of assault weapons in Washington state while allowing reasonable exemptions for manufacture and sale to law enforcement and the military. The legislation does not prohibit the possession of assault weapons.
Eight states have passed similar legislation banning these weapons. Multiple federal courts have upheld these public safety laws as constitutional.
Ferguson’s record on common-sense firearms reforms
Ferguson first proposed a ban on the sale of assault weapons in 2017 in the wake of the 2016 mass shooting at a Mukilteo house party. The shooter used a military-style assault rifle and a high-capacity magazine.
Last session, Ferguson’s proposal to ban the sale of high-capacity magazines in Washington passed the Legislature. The law went into effect in July.
Ferguson also successfully proposed a ban on the manufacture or possession of ghost guns, as well as prohibiting sending 3D-printable gun files to those who are not legally allowed to possess firearms. That law passed the Legislature in 2019.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org
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