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Washington D.C.
Monday, June 5, 2023

Washington State Bans Assault Weapons, Introduces Training Requirements and Waiting Period for Gun Purchases

The third bill, SB 5078, requested by Inslee and Ferguson and sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, increases industry accountability and access to justice for gun violence victims and survivors.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has signed three new bills into law, continuing the state’s progress to enact meaningful gun safety measures. 

Washington is now one of 10 states in America with a ban on assault weapons, and one of a few states with a waiting period and training requirement for all gun purchases. Another new law empowers consumers with the ability to sue firearm manufacturers or retailers for irresponsible conduct, something only four other states have enacted. 

SHB 1240 prohibits the sale, distribution and importation of assault weapons in Washington. The bill was requested by Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and prime sponsored by Rep. Strom Peterson. 

Assault weapons were created for the military and designed to kill humans quickly and efficiently. Washington law defines assault weapons using both a list of specific firearms — including certain types of rifles and pistols —and a list of specific features that enable mass killing. These weapons have been used in shootings in Washington and across the country repeatedly in recent years.

The evidence that assault weapon bans prevent gun deaths comes from America’s recent history. When a federal assault weapons ban was in effect from 1994 to 2004, mass shooting fatalities were 70% less likely to occur as compared to the periods before and after.

Existing legal owners can retain assault weapons they currently own. Those who would like to forfeit their assault weapons are able to sell them to a licensed retailer, who can then sell the weapon out-of-state. A violation of this restriction constitutes a gross misdemeanor and is actionable under the state’s Consumer Protection Act.

With a smaller proportion of first-time gun buyers purchasing a firearm for hunting — an activity for which a license and training has long been a standard legal requirement — more of Washington’s new gun-owners increasingly lack any kind of training in how to handle and store a gun safely.

The second bill signed yesterday, HB 1143, requested by Inslee and sponsored by Rep. Liz Berry, changes the law to reflect changing trends. Now, gun buyers in Washington are required to complete a training course that includes:

  • Proper storage, handling, use and transportation practices
  • Explanation of self-defense laws
  • Strategies to peacefully de-escalate arguments
  • Risk awareness associated with children and people with suicidal thoughts accessing firearms

This essential safety training was already a requirement for the purchase of some rifles.

The law also establishes a mandatory 10-day waiting period for gun purchases. Waiting periods create a buffer between the time of gun purchase and gun acquisition. Studies show that waiting period laws can prevent suicides and homicides because they allow for a cooling off period — a chance for people to reconsider intentions to hurt themselves or others. The 10-day waiting period will also enable local law enforcement to conduct in-depth background checks on all gun buyers, ensuring that ineligible buyers are not able to acquire a firearm.

The third bill, SB 5078, requested by Inslee and Ferguson and sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, increases industry accountability and access to justice for gun violence victims and survivors.

The law clarifies legal liabilities for gun dealers and manufacturers for knowingly creating, maintaining or contributing to a public nuisance by designing, selling or marketing products that:

  • Promote conversion of products into illegal products
  • Market products to children
  • Sell weapons to people prohibited from possessing and purchasing firearms
  • Allow straw purchases
  • Distribute or sell firearms to dealers known to be acting in a dangerous or irresponsible manner

Violations of this policy can be enforced by the Attorney General. Residents in Washington who are harmed as a result of irresponsible or dangerous conduct by a firearm manufacturer or dealer can also sue gun manufacturers or retailers under the Consumer Protection Act.

“Today Washington state is putting the gun industry in its place and improving the health, safety and lives of our residents. I want to thank the many legislators and advocates who have worked for years to deliver some of these policies to the governor’s desk,” Inslee said.

Statistics show that Washington’s work to date to counteract the epidemic of gun violence is working. From 2018 to 2021, the number of deaths by firearm nationwide increased substantially, but firearm deaths in Washington remain well below national averages. Still, gun violence claims the lives of more than two people every day in Washington, more than 800 people each year. Three quarters of those deaths are suicides. Studies suggest many gun deaths are preventable.

In a press statement, the White House said the new bills have “made every community in the state – from Seattle to Spokane and everywhere in between – safer and more secure”.

Read more at the Governor of Washington

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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