If successful, Washington would become the seventh US state to ban assault weapons, which it defines as semi-automatic rifles with at least one military feature, and the ninth to limit the capacity of ammunition magazines.
“We should be making it harder for those who want to inflict mass violence and destruction upon innocent people,” Governor Jay Inslee said in announcing the gun-control push. “By limiting magazine capacity and banning assault weapons, we can work toward a day where no one in Washington state loses a friend or family members to senseless gun violence,” Inslee said.
A study led by a researcher at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York found that gun attacks using large-capacity magazines typically had a higher death toll.
But it also discovered that even in states where high-capacity magazines are banned, more than half of shooters used them, apparently buying them elsewhere or obtaining them illegally. Large-capacity magazines are defined as those that hold more than 10 bullets. In 1994, Congress enacted a federal assault weapons ban, limiting these types of magazines, but it expired a decade later.
Today, nine states and the District of Columbia restrict possession of large-capacity magazines, but statutes vary in terms of maximum bullets allowed and applicable firearms.
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Representatives for the National Rifle Association, which typically opposes efforts by US states to enact stricter gun control laws, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Gun control is expected to be a major issue in the 2020 US presidential election. Most of the candidates for the Democratic nomination have said they would support renewing the federal ban on assault weapons and some have called for buyback programs.
Fully automatic weapons, sometimes called machine guns, are illegal under US law unless they were manufactured before 1986. Perhaps because they are difficult to obtain, they have rarely, if ever, been used in shooting rampages.
A 64-year-old man who opened fire on a country music festival from a hotel overlooking the Las Vegas strip in October 2017, killing 58 people, used so-called bump stocks with his semi-automatic rifles, allowing him to fire rounds at a rapid rate similar to a machine gun.
The Trump administration issued a rule banning the sale or possession of bump stocks in December 2018.