(The Center Square) – People spoke out for and against a bill that would repeal Washington state’s preemption statute, which gives the Legislature the primary authority to regulate firearms, during a Tuesday morning public hearing held by the House Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee.
House Bill 1178 would allow a city, municipality, or county to pass their own firearms ordinances, including adopting laws that are in addition to or more restrictive than state law.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. David Hackney, D-Tukwila, framed the proposed legislation as a restoration of local jurisdiction when it comes to firearms.
“And the reason for this is simple: one size fits all doesn’t necessarily work,” he told the committee. “Local jurisdictions should have the authority to adopt the kind of gun regulations that are appropriate for their community.”
Hackney used the district he represents to make his case.
“In South King County, where the 11th District exists, we are facing a surge of gun violence,” he said. “In fact, we experience 70% of all the gun violence in King County. It should be appropriate for those communities to make decisions for themselves on the kind of gun regulations that make sense for them.”
Hackney continued, “We shouldn’t have to then impose that on other areas of the state that are not facing a surge in gun violence.”
Local government officials publicly testified in favor of HB 1178 on similar grounds.
“But like Rep. Hackney, I strongly believe that each community knows what’s best for it, what works best, what’s most effective, what they need,” said Breean Beggs of the Spokane City Council. “And decisions are best made closest to the people that they’re impacting.”
He went on to say, “Right now, we feel really hamstrung.”
Yelm City Councilmember Ashley Brooks, a leader with the Washington chapter of Moms Demand Action, echoed those sentiments.
“Giving local governments this decision-making power is an important part of addressing the threat firearms pose to our communities,” she said. “This bill takes a long overdue step towards giving local leaders the ability to tailor the approach to reducing crime and protecting life and property.”
Monisha Harrell, senior deputy mayor of Seattle, summed up the pro-HB 1178 side.
“Washington state is a beautifully diverse state,” she said. “It’s gun regulations should respect that diversity.”
Opponents of the bill said it would create a confusing patchwork of gun laws across the state that would make otherwise law-abiding gun owners criminals.
Aoibheann Cline, Washington state NRA director, asked the audience to imagine a scenario of traveling along the Interstate 5 corridor, from the Oregon border Olympia, Washington’s capital, a distance of approximately 100 miles.
“Under Washington’s current preemption statute, the laws that apply to how you register, license, possess, purchase, sell, transfer, and store your firearm are uniform,” she said. “If House Bill 1178 passes, in that stretch of just 100 miles you will encounter 14 different jurisdictions, with patchworked laws and regulations.
“In one county, your firearm can be concealed. In the next, it must be locked and unloaded in the trunk during transit. In the next, completely banned.”
Cline’s assessment was backed up by Spokane County Sheriff John Nowels.
“As has been stated by several people offering testimony today, the stated purpose of repealing the preemption law is to increase public safety and get more local control,” he said. “However, while I would normally support local control in most areas where public safety is concerned, firearm laws need to be uniform across the state of Washington for myriad of reasons.”
Nowels said it was unreasonable to expect people to keep track of the many new gun laws in multiple jurisdictions that would likely result from HB 1178 becoming law, adding Washington’s preemption law is a model for at least 20 other states across the country.
“By repealing this law, it will create criminals out of otherwise law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who are just exercising their constitutional right to keep and bear arms,” he said.
Jennifer Belmore-Tamiez, a realtor based in Battleground who has a concealed carry permit because her job sometimes takes her to remote locations where there is no cell phone service, suggested passage of HB 1178 would imperil her safety.
“Requiring additional licensing for each jurisdiction I travel to is not only burdensome, but overly complex, but not necessary given Washington state’s laws that already exist,” she said. “It would involve an additional four counties and 30 cities of jurisdictions, all of which could have different rules and regulations than what the state law provides.”
The committee also heard public testimony on three other pieces of gun legislation: House Bill 1143, creating a permit-to-purchase requirement for all firearms sales in the state and mandatory safety training; House Bill 1144, creating a mandatory training requirement to purchase firearms that would need to be renewed every five years; and House Bill 1240, banning “assault weapons.”