Opponents of three House bills in Washington State—to repeal state preemption, ban so-called “assault rifles” and require training and permits to purchase firearms—vastly outnumbered supporters of each measure during public hearings at the state capitol in Olympia, although the number of people speaking on both sides of the issue was balanced by time limits.
According to raw data, House Bill 1178 (repeal preemption) drew support from 843 people while 2,174 signed up to oppose the measure.
Likewise, House Bill 1240 (semi-auto ban) attracted 965 supporters and a whopping 3,152 people in opposition.
House Bills 1143 and 1144, which are very similar (10-day waiting period, proof of training, permit to purchase) drew 931 supporters and 2,335 opponents.
There were strong comments from several people testifying against repeal of state preemption—the nearly 40-year-old statute that has served as a model for similar laws in other states—but possibly the most persuasive argument came from John Nowels, sheriff of Spokane County who succeeded now-retired former Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.
“The stated purpose of repealing the preemption law is to increase public safety and give more local control,” Sheriff Nowels said. “However, while I would normally support local control in most areas where public safety is concerned, firearm laws need to be uniform across the state of Washington for a myriad of reasons.”
Nowels told the committee Washington’s law has been used as a model “because it is so effective and works so well.”
“By repealing this law,” he said, “it will create criminals out of otherwise law abiding, tax paying citizens who are just exercising their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”
On the other side of the argument, Neal Black with the Kirkland City Council reflected the sentiments of other municipal representatives who support the measure.
“When it comes to protecting our communities from gun violence, our hands are tied,” Black said. “As city leaders we should have the power to enact policies that reduce gun violence and save lives.”
The committee heard from representatives of Seattle and Spokane, and from gun control advocates, all supporting the concept of local control, which opponents said would create a checkerboard of confusing local regulations that could easily ensnare law-abiding gun owners traveling from one location to another, passing through several different jurisdictions in the process.
Representatives from the National Rifle Association and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms defended the preemption concept, concurring with Sheriff Nowels that it works while providing uniformity from border-to-border.
NRA’s Aoibheann Cline told the committee “Firearms preemption laws are among the most simple in concept but often the most difficult to understand.”
She cautioned the committee that some municipalities have already tried to skirt state preemption.
“House Bill 1178 seeks to make it impossible for Washingtonians to comply (with the law),” she stated.
Cities including Seattle, Edmonds and other municipalities have wanted to overturn preemption for many years. So far, they have failed, but this year could produce a serious fight with a strong Democrat majority.
Ironically, anti-gunners turned out to support House Bill 1240, which would establish a statewide ban on so-called “assault weapons.” On one level, gun control advocates demand local control, while on the other they want a state law.