Washington State approved a package of gun control measures on Tuesday that includes a ban on the sale of military-style semiautomatic weapons, making it the ninth state to join efforts to prevent the distribution of AR-15s and other powerful rifles often used in mass shootings.
The new laws put Washington in the ranks of states with the strongest gun control measures in the nation. They include a 10-day waiting period on gun purchases, gun safety training requirements and a provision allowing the state attorney general and consumers to sue gun manufacturers or dealers under public nuisance laws if they negligently allow their guns to fall into the hands of minors or “dangerous individuals.”
Gun rights proponents swiftly filed a lawsuit to challenge the semiautomatic rifle ban, saying it infringed on Second Amendment rights.
Washington is among a series of states, largely led by Democrats, that have advanced gun legislation this year as the nation continues to grapple with repeated mass shootings. Republicans have moved in the opposite direction, with lawmakers in several states introducing legislation to expand the ability to carry concealed weapons without a permit and eliminate such things as gun-free zones, background checks and red-flag laws, which allow the removal of guns from people deemed to be at high risk of violence or self-harm.
About half of all states now allow people to carry a handgun without a permit, up from 16 states in 2020.
AR-15-style rifles have been a particular point of concern among gun control proponents as they have often been the weapon of choice in mass shootings. The high-capacity firearms can fire rounds at a greater velocity than a handgun, resulting in more severe injuries.
In signing the new laws, Gov. Jay Inslee said there was no legitimate purpose for such weapons.
“These weapons of war, assault weapons, have no reason other than mass murder,” Mr. Inslee said. “Their only purpose is to kill humans as rapidly as possible in large numbers.”
In 1994, as a congressman representing rural areas in Washington, Mr. Inslee voted for a federal assault weapons ban — a vote he said contributed to his re-election loss later that year. That ban passed but expired in 2004 and has never been renewed.
Last summer, in the months after a young gunman used an AR-15-style rifle to fatally shoot 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would have reinstated the federal ban, but it stalled in the Senate.
The new laws in Washington State follow similar bans in other liberal-leaning states and Washington, D.C. Some states, such as California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, have had such a prohibition on the books for decades, and Maryland has banned the weapons since 2013. But as the number of high-profile mass shootings continues to escalate, several more states have enacted bans.
Illinois adopted a ban in January, and Delaware passed a similar law last year. Hawaii has banned so-called assault pistols with certain features since 1992 but does not ban military-style rifles.
Colorado lawmakers introduced a similar ban last month, but the House bill failed to make it out of committee after three Democrats voted with Republicans to kill it, according to local media reports.
All of the bans currently in place allow people to keep weapons previously purchased, but states vary on how those so-called legacy weapons are regulated, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The new laws enacted in Washington join a series of other gun control measures that have been adopted in the state in recent years. In 2018, voters approved an initiative that raised the age for purchasing military-style rifles to 21 and created an enhanced background check system for those guns that included a 10-day waiting period.
The new legislation now requires a 10-day waiting period for purchasing any kind of gun. While several states require waiting periods, only California and Hawaii require a full 10 days. Washington is one of nine states that require gun buyers to provide proof of training.
Legislation allowing lawsuits against private parties for negligent sales has now been passed in five states.
Representative Liz Berry, a Democratic lawmaker in Washington who sponsored one of the new bills, said she ran for office three years ago because she was angry over the number of people affected by gun violence. She said the new waiting period was critical to prevent guns from being used by people in crisis; training requirements, she said, can help people learn about safe weapons handling and how to keep guns away from children.
Ms. Berry noted that students in Washington had engaged in recent protests to persuade lawmakers to take action to end gun violence.
“We see you. We hear you,” Ms. Berry said. “And, today, we are doing something about it.”