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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Ban On Bump Stocks Passes Washington Senate

Wikimedia -

The Washington state Senate has passed a ban on trigger modification devices known as bump stocks that allow semi-automatic firearms to operate more like automatic weapons.

The vote Thursday evening came in response to last October’s mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and left hundreds more injured.

Credit Phoenix7777 / Wikimedia -
Wikimedia -
This animation shows how a bump stock works. The trigger, in red, is toggled by the stable trigger finger when the receiver moves forward, and is reset when the receiver moves back due to recoil.

“It aligns current practices with our state laws and our state laws have never allowed for fully automatic weapons,” said state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, a Democrat and self-described “lifetime member” of the National Rifle Association. “Therefore, I believe our state should not allow bump stocks.”

Four Republicans joined with Democrats to pass the measure. The final vote was 29 to 20.

Opponents said the ban was an infringement on gun rights and expressed concern that current owners of bumps stocks in Washington will have to surrender the devices beginning in 2019.

“Why am I a ‘no’ vote?” Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler asked. “Clearly this is the first gun seizure in the state of Washington, because if you are found in possession you are a felon.”

Republican Doug Ericksen argued that the ban on bump stocks would not stop a “crazy, psycho” person from committing a mass shooting. He also warned that the ban could lead to police entering the homes of otherwise law-abiding citizens to seize the devices.

“What you are doing is you are creating the ability for law enforcement to come into your home,” Ericksen said. “And you will not prevent any kind of activity like what happened in Las Vegas.”

The ban would make it illegal for anyone in Washington to manufacture or sell bump stocks beginning July 1, 2018. In July 2019, it would become illegal to own or possess a bump stock in Washington.

Prior to the vote, the Democratic majority in the Senate rejected a proposed amendment from Republican state Sen. Mike Padden that would have allowed bump stocks to be sold contingent on the buyer passing a state and federal background check. Padden argued that bump stocks are used by some disabled gun owners to help them fire the weapon.

“I think this is a better approach,” Padden said.

The amendment was voted down.

Majority Democrats, however, accepted an amendment from another Republican, state Sen. Hans Zeiger, that narrowed the definition of a trigger modification device.

“I was shocked by the utter brutality of the Las Vegas shooting,” Zeiger said in offering his amendment. Zeiger was one of the four Republicans who voted for the final bill. 

The bill now goes to the Washington state House for consideration. In his State of the State address earlier this month, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee urged the legislature to pass a bump stock ban.

Last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, signed a ban on bump stocks into law.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is currently reviewing bump stocks to determine whether they should be included under a 1986 ban on machine guns.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."