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Will Washington's new assault weapons ban hold up in court? Gov. Inslee thinks 'it should survive'

caption: In this Oct. 2, 2018, semi-automatic rifles fill a wall at a gun shop in Lynnwood, Wash.
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In this Oct. 2, 2018, semi-automatic rifles fill a wall at a gun shop in Lynnwood, Wash.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Washington state's ban on assault weapons has passed the House and Senate and is headed to Gov. Jay Inslee's desk for a signature. After that, legal challenges are certain to emerge.

This report comes from a conversation with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee about Washington's assault weapons ban with KUOW's Kim Malcom. Listen to the full discussion here.

While discussing the ban with KUOW, Gov. Inslee says he's confident the legislation "should" hold up in court.

“I think it should survive because this is a very common sense measure," Inslee said, commenting on potential Second Amendment challenges. "I don’t believe that anyone believes that weapons of war are protected by the Second Amendment. And these particular kinds of weapons, that’s their only real reason, is mass murder. There is really no reason for these particular weapons, other than that. This bill does not take away all the right to firearms. It doesn’t prevent people from having firearms to protect their personal space and home. But the only reason for this — if you think of the 'Night of the Living Dead' and 10,000 zombies are coming to your house, and you need to spray gunfire all over the neighborhood.”

Outside of the court, Inslee argues that Washington's assault weapons ban "will somewhere, somehow, I believe, reduce gun violence."

HB1240: Washington state assault weapons ban

With a 56-42 vote in the House this week, primarily along party lines, HB1240 passed. Gov. Inslee promoted the measure alongside state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

The bill targets semiautomatic rifles, and lists a number of attributes to identify such firearms. It also names more than 60 specific models, many of which are AK-47 or AR-15 style rifles, but also some semiautomatic pistols and shotguns. Under the ban, it will be illegal to sell or purchase these firearms in Washington state, or to import them. People who currently own the banned weapons are allowed to retain them.

The governor said he cannot predict how the Supreme Court would rule on the state's new assault weapons ban, "but I can tell you it will be well-defended by our excellent attorney general, Bob Ferguson."

Gun rights in Washington state can be sourced to both the United State's Constitution, as well as the state's own Constitution. At the federal level, the Second Amendment states: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Article 1, section 24 of Washington's constitution states: "The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men."

Inslee points to the 1994 federal ban on assault weapons that lasted 10 years as proof such measures work. It passed while he was a member of Congress. Yet, previous proposals to ban such firearms in Washington state have failed to succeed. Inslee said it was a “combination of persistence and an obvious need for common sense," that pushed the bill through this session.

Washington's ban comes amid the backdrop of high-profile mass shootings. The United States has experienced 17 mass killings so far this year, resulting in 88 deaths, the Associated Press reports. According to the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, about 1% of all gun-related deaths in Washington state are from mass shootings (data from between 2015-2019). The majority of deaths (75%) are related to suicides; 20% are from homicides (which include domestic violence statistics).

"One of the reasons [the bill passed] is that we’ve had persistence of the public, who have been demanding this from politicians," Inslee said. "For a long, long time, this actually has been the majority will of Washingtonians and Americans; it’s just that politicians were not listening. We finally broke the back of the NRA. It happened to some degree that politicians could not stand the heat from all this carnage that’s going on, and finally woke up and understood that having weapons of war on the streets made no sense and endangered our children."

Gov. Inslee commented that no single bill will solve Washington's gun violence problem. He points to a suite of bills in Olympia this session, which require a 10-day waiting period to purchase firearms, and a safety course for gun buyers. Another bill aims to hold gun manufacturers liable to victims when their products are used in a crime.

“In tandem, I think they will have a measurable impact on gun violence,” Inslee said.

“Those 10 days, sometimes, are a cooling off period,” he said of the suite of gun measures, adding that there are other, related issues that the state also needs to address. “We have to talk about this more, and make this a topic of discussion in our families about the signs of depression and the signs of a potential problem, particularly with middle-aged men, which is a high rate of suicide. We have to help our veterans … (we have had) intensive efforts to identify veterans with some mental health challenges. And we have to continue to build, we are in the process of reforming and building our mental health system in a whole host of ways, producing more psychologist, building more community clinics, and we need to continue that building process."

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