Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Jan 15 2018

Ferguson proposes limiting high capacity magazines and requiring enhanced background checks for assault weapon purchases


OLYMPIA — Today Attorney General Bob Ferguson testified in front of the Senate Committee on Law and Justice Committee to support two gun safety bills advanced by his office. One bill limits high capacity magazines to 10 rounds. The other requires enhanced background checks for individuals buying assault weapons, guaranteeing a waiting period of up to 10 days for assault weapon purchases.

“These are common sense bills that will improve public safety and save lives,” said Ferguson. “When I meet with Washingtonians from all parts of the state, they are stunned to learn we have no limits on magazine capacity and do not require waiting periods to purchase assault weapons.”

Limiting High Capacity Magazines

High capacity magazines have facilitated some of the worst mass murders ever committed in the United States. For example, gunmen used detachable high capacity magazines in Newtown (30-round), Aurora (100-round), Orlando (30-round), Las Vegas (100-round), and Sutherland (30-round). Gunmen murdered a total of 172 individuals and wounded more than 750 between those five mass shootings that occurred since 2012. This is only a small sample of the total number of shootings involving high capacity magazines.  

Washington has seen that danger first-hand: In July 2016, in Mukilteo, a 19-year-old used a weapon with a detachable 30-round magazine to murder three teens and seriously injure another, fleeing only after emptying his magazine. In September 2016, a young man killed five people at a mall in Burlington. The victims ranged from 16 to 95 years of age. He used a rifle with a 30-round magazine.

The standard military-issue magazine has the capacity to carry 30 rounds of ammunition. Unlike other states, Washington state does not limit magazine capacity.

SB 6049, sponsored by Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, changes that, limiting magazines to 10 rounds of ammunition. Maryland, Connecticut, California, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts set the same limit on high-capacity magazines.

In an active shooter scenario, reloading the firearm presents an opportunity to escape or fight back. Decreasing magazine capacity increases opportunities to escape or resist.

A review of mass shootings between January 2009 and January 2013 by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that incidents where assault weapons or large capacity ammunition magazines were used resulted in 135 percent more people shot and 57 percent more killed, compared to other mass shootings.

In acts of self-defense, it is extremely rare for more than 10 shots to be fired. On average, only 2.2 shots are fired during self-defense.

Ferguson’s legislation allows exceptions for law enforcement, military, and recreational shooting ranges. The bill requires safe and secure storage separate from the weapon for magazines grandfathered by possession on the effective date of the legislation.

Every Democratic Senator on the Law and Justice Committee sponsored SB 6049.

Assault Weapon Enhanced Background Checks

In Washington state, an individual must be 21 years old to purchase a handgun. Handgun purchases require a waiting period of up to 10 days to allow for local law enforcement to run a background check of state mental health records.

Washington state only allows military-style assault weapons to be sold to 18 year-olds. Assault weapon purchases do not require a waiting period, or an enhanced background check.

SB 5444, also sponsored by Sen. Frockt, will change that.

Military-style assault weapons are 11 times more likely to be used in a mass shooting than other types of weapons. They are seven times more likely to kill law enforcement. Assault weapons are five times less likely to be used in self-defense.

The 19-year-old gunman who took the lives of three Mukilteo teens in 2016 purchased his AR-15-style assault weapon from a Tulalip Cabela’s. He walked into the store and walked out with the the assault weapons and high-capacity magazine the same day. He committed the mass shooting just four days later.

SB 5444 requires owners of assault weapons to acquire permits, and implements checks similar to those currently used for Concealed Pistol Licenses (CPL) for assault weapons purchases. Only individuals over 21 will be eligible to make these purchases, and all purchases will be subject to a waiting period of up to 10 days.

The Senate Committee on Law and Justice has until February 2 to pass both bills out of committee.



The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.


Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov