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Washington State Restricts Ownership of ‘Assault Rifles’

February 15, 2019

Voters in Washington State approved a ballot measure that imposes restrictions on firearms ownership, including raising the minimum age to purchase semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21 years.

Washington State Initiative 1639 amends state law by imposing restrictions on the purchase and ownership of semiautomatic “assault rifles” as defined by the proposal. The measure mandates a 10-day waiting period and firearms training for purchases of semiautomatic rifles, and it bans sales of semiautomatic rifles to nonresidents of the state. The law also requires gun owners to keep their weapons in locked safes and requires officials to conduct more extensive background checks on gun purchasers.

Fifty-nine percent of Washington voters in the November 6 election approved the measure, which was placed on the ballot through a public petition.

The higher age limit went into effect on January 1, 2019, and the other provisions will take effect July 1.

Expanding Definition of Assault

Initiative 1639 defined a semiautomatic assault rifle as “Any rifle which utilizes a portion of the energy of a firing cartridge to extract the fired cartridge case and chamber the next round, and which requires a separate pull of the trigger to fire each cartridge.”  In other words, the term applies to any semiautomatic rifle.

Supporters promoted the initiative as an effort to reduce homicides and mass shootings, but it is unlikely to do either, says H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News.

"Research consistently shows so-called assault weapons are used in relatively few crimes, including mass shootings, so this measure will do little or nothing to reduce violent crime,” said Burnett.

“While it won't save lives, it does rob citizens between 18 and 20 of part of their right to keep and bear arms guaranteed to them under the Constitution of the United States,” Burnett said.

‘It Is Absurd and Wrong’

Raising the age limit for firearms purchases will not reduce murder rates, says Lennie Jarratt, a project manager at The Heartland Institute.

“Research shows age restrictions on gun purchases do not decrease homicide rates,” said Jarratt.

“All this Washington law does is prevent law-abiding citizens from making purchases while making anti-Second Amendment activists feel good about themselves,” Jarratt said.

The law also means individuals in military service who have been using fully automatic weapons cannot legally purchase a semi-automatic rifle until they are 21, says Burnett.

“It is absurd and wrong,” said Burnett. “Voters in Washington State are telling young men and women who are trusted to carry and use fully automatic machine guns—true assault weapons—and even operate weapons of mass destruction in defense of our country while serving in the military, they can't purchase semiautomatic rifles if they serve and live in Washington State."

The National Rifle Association, the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), gun dealers, and 18-to-20-year-olds affected by the age limit are challenging the law in federal court, citing various violations of the U.S. Constitution.

 

Author
Joe Barnett is a research fellow and managing editor of Budget & Tax News, a publication of The Heartland Institute
jbarnett@heartland.org