Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a group of bills Tuesday tightening rules on guns in some circumstances, part of a national shift toward more narrowly focused gun legislation.
Included in the bills were provisions allowing temporary gun bans on people being released from short-term psychiatric holds and people found incompetent to stand trial, and a prohibition on so-called “ghost guns” that lack serial numbers or are made from plastic and might be invisible to airport scanners.
The new rules also update existing gun-surrender requirements for people under restraining orders, adding a requirement for law enforcement to serve the orders.
Renee Hopkins, head of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, an advocacy group that worked on the measures, said the bills passed Tuesday, combined with other regulations passed in previous years, make Washington “one of the states with the strongest laws in regards to preventing gun violence.”
Gun policy watchers have said the bills fit into a broader pattern of legislation around the U.S. Instead of adding new restrictions for all gun owners, the measures generally focus on specific risk, groups such as domestic abusers, violent felons or people experiencing a psychiatric crisis.
“It’s taking a risk-based approach to it, and really looking at the situations that we know are highest risk,” said Hopkins, referring to Tuesday’s bills as well as previous legislation involving suicide prevention and secure storage requirements.
Advocates in at least 13 states have also successfully pushed extreme risk protection orders, which allow courts or police to remove guns based on perceived risk.
Washington already allows such orders, and one of Tuesday’s bills allows them to be entered against minors, which advocates called an effort to combat school shootings.
Critics see weakening of gun rights
By comparison, broader gun control legislation has often struggled to find support in recent years, including in Washington state, where an assault weapons ban and a ban on high capacity magazines failed even though Democrats control both chambers of the state Legislature.
Critics of the new restrictions say even the narrower Washington state bills weaken gun rights.
Joe Waldron, a spokesman for the Gun Owners Action League of Washington, a group that lobbies against gun control, said he was concerned that some of the bills lacked due process protections and collectively amount to a growing set of restrictions that will affect all gun owners.
“They’re just as happy expanding the list of people that can’t have guns,” Waldron said. “Piece by piece, they’re chopping away.”
Extreme risk protection orders gained traction nationwide after a 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed. It was later revealed that the gunman had been able to access weapons despite early warnings to police.
Waldron believes such orders could be misused.
The bill focused on people on psychiatric holds broadens who can be temporarily barred from possessing a gun after being held under the state’s Involuntary Treatment Act.
State law previously allowed such blocks for people who were ordered to be committed by a judge. Tuesday’s bill makes the blocks automatic even for people held only for 72 hours — a decision made by a medical expert without a judge’s approval.
State law currently bars guns for people found incompetent in criminal trials and then involuntarily committed by a judge, but that block is now set to expand to include people found incompetent but released instead of being committed.
People under restraining orders and domestic violence offenders have also been a focus for incrementally tighter rules from legislators.
Gun surrender was already required for some people subject to restraining and protective orders, but one of the measures signed Tuesday requires the police to serve the orders.
Another bill that passed the Legislature but remains unsigned by Inslee requires law enforcement to remove any guns found at the scene of a domestic violence crime and hold them for five days, even if the guns weren’t used in the crime itself.
The so-called “ghost gun” measure involves two types of weapons: Plastic weapons printed on 3D printers, which might be invisible to airport scanners, and guns without serial numbers, including ones that can be made from do-it-yourself kits available online without a background check. It bans undetectable guns, and effectively requires a background check for purchasing such a gun-making kit.