Grief and furor as gun violence victims and gun rights advocates descend on Olympia

Jan 20, 2020

A gun rally in Virginia on Monday drew thousands of people and national attention. But guns were also on the agenda at the Washington state Capitol following a smaller pro-gun rally in Olympia on Friday. 

People on both sides of the gun control debate packed a Senate hearing room to testify on measures to restrict magazine capacity, require training for concealed pistol permit holders and increase penalties for stolen firearms.

Among those testifying was Ami Strahan whose 15-year-old son Sam was killed in the September 2017 shooting at Freeman High School near Spokane.

“I am here because I am a grieving mother," Strahan said tearfully. “I lost part of my soul and I’m still struggling to recover.”

Strahan testified in favor of a measure that would limit firearms magazine capacity to 10 rounds. She was one of several victims of gun violence and their families to appear before the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Their pleas for action were countered by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates who urged lawmakers to stand down.

“I’m a compassionate man and I feel badly for the people whose lives have been affected by these tragic instances,” said Allen Ernst who described mass shootings as "terribly sad."

“But it’s also sad that we are here once again debating bills that will almost certainly not save a life or place any hardships whatsoever on those with criminal intent,” Ernst said.

Ernst testified against a separate proposal to require concealed pistol license (CPL) holders to undergo at least eight hours of training. More than half of states require some sort of training for CPL holders, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

It's not unusual for majority Democrats in Olympia to hold public hearings on controversial gun control bills. But they usually don't pass and the proposals often instead end up on the ballot in the form of voter initiatives. But 2020 could be different said state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, the Democratic chair of the Law and Justice Committee.

“I think we have a real possibility of getting the high capacity magazine bill through the Legislature this year," Pedersen said at a news conference following the public hearings.

On Tuesday, a committee of the Washington House will take public testimony on the proposed assault weapons ban.

However, that measure appears unlikely to pass this year despite support from Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Other gun-related measures under consideration in Olympia would regulate ammunition sales, create a state office of firearm violence prevention, restrict gun possession following a second drunk driving conviction and establish a centralized background check system run by the Washington State Patrol.

Many of the proposals are included in the 2020 legislative agenda for the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.

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