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caption: Speaking on Gun Violence Awareness Day, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he hopes to pursue legislation to ban assault weapons and to allow lawsuits against gun manufacturers.
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Speaking on Gun Violence Awareness Day, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he hopes to pursue legislation to ban assault weapons and to allow lawsuits against gun manufacturers.
Credit: KUOW/Amy Radil

On day of grief over gun violence, gun rights group heads back to court

In the wake of a string of horrific mass shootings across the U.S., the conflicting aims of groups on different sides of the gun debate were in stark relief in Seattle Friday.

Just as supporters for stronger gun regulations gathered at events around King County, a local gun rights group announced its latest lawsuit aimed at repealing Washington state’s gun restrictions.

Student rallies, gun lockbox giveaways and other events were scheduled as part of Gun Violence Awareness Day. People at those events denounced the most recent string of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Simultaneously, Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, announced a new federal lawsuit, challenging the state’s upcoming ban on large-capacity gun magazines, which Gov. Inslee signed into law in March.

“We believe it’s totally unconstitutional under the Second and 14th Amendments,” Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb called the latest push for new legislation misguided.

“Taking away people’s rights who do not commit crimes and have no propensity for committing crimes, just because somebody goes and misuses something, doesn’t make any sense in our society at all,” he said. “We wouldn’t tolerate it for cars or anything else. But somehow guns get demonized.”

Gottlieb said the timing on filing the lawsuit was coincidental, and lawyers needed to file the lawsuit before the law takes effect July 1. The suit also seeks an injunction to prevent the ban from going into effect while the lawsuit is resolved.

Meanwhile, at the University Heights building in Seattle, people in various shades of orange stood on a platform behind Renee Hopkins, CEO of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, as she called on members of Congress to emulate Washington state legislators who she said “have proven that the gun lobby’s stranglehold can be broken.” (They said the color orange was in memory of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot and killed one week after she performed at President Obama’s second inauguration.)

Hopkins noted that Washington state already has many of the laws that President Biden is seeking on the federal level to address gun violence, including “red flag” laws, as well as minimum ages and waiting periods to purchase semiautomatic rifles.

Hopkins said she doesn’t believe the timing of the latest lawsuit was an accident.

“You are seeing the face of the gun lobby, this is how they are. They do not care about the carnage in our streets,” she said. “They’re so crass that on the day that we have gun violence awareness across the entire country, they file a lawsuit against a law that would have prevented what happened in Uvalde.”

At the press conference, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he hopes to pursue new legislation on two topics that Biden mentioned in his address Thursday: the ability to sue firearms manufacturers for damages and a ban on the sale of assault weapons.

“I think those are the two key prongs in Washington state that we don’t have currently that could be adopted,” he said.

Ferguson also said he is monitoring a legal challenge that could jeopardize the state’s requirement that buyers be at least 21 to purchase a semiautomatic rifle. A panel of federal judges recently struck down a similar law from California. Ferguson said he’s waiting for the entire Ninth Circuit to review that decision, to see if Washington’s law is affected.

He said a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit also struck down California’s ban on high-capacity magazines, only to have the law later upheld by the full circuit.

“You get all the judges on the Ninth Circuit who weigh in on those, I’m confident they’ll uphold [the minimum age requirement],” he said.

The new age requirement was included in I-1639, which Washington voters passed in 2018. U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton upheld the law, and the case is now under appeal.

At the press conference, UW student Marina Gabrielle Blatt said she found the lessons of active-shooter trainings absurd for both students and teachers.

“My parents are teachers,” she said. “They’re the ones told to be next to the door. Their job responsibilities are teaching high school students math and theater — and pulling the gun out of a gunman’s hands who is trying to kill them.”

Lynniah Grayson, founder of the nonprofit group RISE, which assists families impacted by gun violence, said King County’s “Shots Fired” reports show a “terrifying” increase in gun violence year over year, with Black people accounting for 50 percent of the shooting victims.

“It’s important to know that 85 percent of shooting victims are males,” Grayson said, “but what the data doesn’t show is what percent were fathers, husbands and providers.”

Hopkins with the Alliance for Gun Responsibility said her group is focused on supporting federal legislation similar to the laws in effect in Washington state.

“Many people will be quick to blame mental illness or call for arming teachers," she said, "anything to deflect from the real problem, which is easy access to guns.”