OLYMPIA – Senate Bill 5992, to be introduced to the state Legislature, would ban a gun parts intended to increase the weapon’s rate of fire.
The proposed statute includes a ban on products that produce rapid bursts or other trigger functions. This includes bump stocks, devices that can be attached to a semi automatic weapon to increase its firing rate. A trigger crank is a similar device that also increases a firearm’s rate. Turning the crank allows a user to discharge several shots per revolution.
In October, Stephen Paddock killed 59 people and injured more than 500 attending a country music concert in Las Vegas. The crime has been called the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history.
Authorities reported that Paddock had 23 guns in his hotel room, which overlooked the country music venue. Two of his weapons had bump stocks to allow them to fire rapidly.
Even before it is heard in committee, the proposed bill has drawn fire from opponents.
“The broad and overreaching provisions in SB 5992 could potentially criminalize firearm modifications such as competition triggers, muzzle brakes, and ergonomic changes that are commonly done by law-abiding gun owners to make their firearms more suitable for self-defense, competition, hunting, or even overcoming disability,” the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action wrote in an article on their website.
Laura Cutilletta, legal director of Giffords Law Center, takes issue with the notion that trigger cranks add any value to hunting or range shooting.
“These devices make semi automatic firearms particularly lethal especially if they are in the wrong hands,” she said. “The federal restrictions on machine guns have been effective. These devices are an attempt to skirt those regulations. If the federal government doesn’t crack down on the use of these devices then states need to step in and do so.”
Despite the controversy, the bill’s secondary sponsor Republican Senator Hans Zeiger said he does not expect to see as much controversy in the Senate over this bill, noting both the Republicans in minority and the bipartisan leadership on the bill.
“I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” Sen. Zeiger, R-Puyallup, said. “We need to enforce the existing laws we have rather than create new laws that restrict the rights of gun owners but I do look for areas that we can have bipartisan support for measures that enhance public safety.”
Legislative chairman of the Washington State Rifle and Pistol Association Joe Waldron said the legislation is a waste of time. The devices, he said, do not improve anything and degrade the accuracy of the firearm. Still, banning the device would only be another regulation that will not greatly increase public safety.
“We don’t have a bill of needs in this country. We have a Bill of Rights,” he said reiterating that the proposed legislation would only be one of principle.
Dave Workman, senior editor of TheGunMag.com, said, “Any legislation that amounts to an outright ban on something is certainly going to draw challenges from gun owners.”
Until the shooting in Las Vegas, Workman and Waldron say bump stocks had not been an issue and not many gun owners had heard of the device.
Cutilletta says that argument is a misconception.
Giffords Law Center was founded in response to a 1993 attack on San Francisco law firm Pettit & Martin in which the shooter used a trigger activator that increased the gun’s rate of fire. In the “101 Street Shooting,” Gian Luigi Ferri killed eight people before ending his own life.
The devices remain federally legal despite state laws in California and Massachusetts.
“The stock has no automatically functioning mechanical parts or springs and performs no automatic mechanical function when installed,” John Spencer, chief of the Firearm Technology branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives wrote in the 2010 letter responding to Slide Fire’s evaluation request. “We find that the ‘bump-stock’ is a firearm part and is not regulated as a firearm under Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act.”
The shootings in 2017 have prompted lawmakers around the nation to begin thinking about similar legislation.
Taylor McAvoy is a reporter with the WNPA Olympia News Bureau.