Senators remember Alamo, face overwhelming odds, prepare to defend U.S. Constitution
OLYMPIA – As the Washington Senate readies for debate on Democrat-sponsored bills imposing severe new restrictions on gun ownership statewide, members of the Senate Freedom Caucus vow a last-ditch defense of Second Amendment rights.
“Right now in the Washington State Senate, it feels a little like the quiet just before the Battle of the Alamo,” said Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview. “We’re standing at the parapet and looking at the forces ranged against us, and let me tell you, our chances do not appear good. What we want everyone to remember is that we fought the good fight to protect the U.S. Constitution, right to the end.”
Members of the Freedom Caucus, a group of senators concerned with the preservation of constitutional rights, say they know the odds are daunting, but they won’t let it dampen their fighting spirit. They are drawing a bead on House Bill 1240, a bill that would ban the sale of rifles with magazines of 10 rounds or more, and House Bill 1143, which would require gun purchasers to present certificates demonstrating they have completed a state-approved gun-safety training course.
The two measures have already passed the state House and appear good bets for passage in the Washington Legislature, as both chambers are under Democratic Party control. The rifle ban is on the Senate’s calendar and is posed for a vote at any moment.
Another bill with sweeping impact on availability of firearms already has passed the Washington Senate this year and awaits action in the House. Senate Bill 5078 would allow the attorney general’s office to sue firearms manufacturers and dealers for improper use of weapons, a novel approach that could force firearms off the market in Washington state for liability reasons.
The senators call the bills an unusually direct assault on Second Amendment rights and the even-stronger guarantee offered by the Washington state constitution. The Washington constitution declares the “right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired.”
The senators say the bills offer a clear impairment of the right to bear arms. They note the so-called “assault weapons” ban would encompass many commonly used rifles, including modern sporting rifles and others typically employed in target practice. They observe the training requirement places a cumbersome impairment on a constitutional right guaranteed to all U.S. citizens. And they say the bill allowing lawsuits against gun manufacturers is akin to suing GM and Ford for drunk-driving accidents.
“We can’t add qualifications and conditions to constitutional rights – they are inherent with the people,” said Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, a former Spokane County District Court judge. “The Second Amendment is not a second-class amendment. I am convinced these bills would be overturned as unconstitutional if they reached the stage of a court challenge. The Legislature should spare the courts that trouble, by rejecting them in the first place.”
Washington gun laws already go far beyond federal requirements, and the senators say national concerns have little to no bearing on Washington state. They point out Washington has passed 37 firearms-related restrictions since 2015, and is recognized as the 10th most-regulated state by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“We are seeing an effort to divert our attention from the very real mental health problems rampant in our society,” said Jim McCune, R-Graham. “It is an effort to weaponize our fears, undermine the Second Amendment and promote greater government control over our lives. Guns have always been available in America. What is different today is our reluctance to effectively confront behavioral problems, mental illness, a breakdown in social order and other issues many elected officials are reluctant to acknowledge. Firearms make an easy scapegoat. We need to address root causes, not offer false hope.”
The senators anticipate a lengthy debate in the Senate that will explore every nuance of the issue. They note that the House spent four hours and 45 minutes debating the two bills before they came to the Senate.
Freedom Caucus member Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, said he was so disturbed by the Legislature’s lack of understanding that he introduced a bill creating a special course for lawmakers on firearms issues, and requiring their attendance.
“If I thought even for a moment that these bills would protect our children, I would vote for them,” Fortunato said. “Instead, we are debating a political agenda that does nothing to make us safer. Every year we see new efforts to make it more difficult for law-abiding gun owners to exercise their right to bear arms. Keeping faith with the people requires us to fight for them, and for the survival of our constitutional freedoms.”