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Judge rejects attempt to block new Washington law banning sale of certain semi-automatic rifles

U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan ruled that given the ‘exceptional dangerousness of these weapons,’ the state’s interest in regulating them trumps the challengers’ desire to purchase more assault weapons

Customers look at AR-15-style rifles on a mostly empty display wall at Rainier Arms Friday, April 14, 2023, in Auburn, Wash
Customers look at AR-15-style rifles on a mostly empty display wall at Rainier Arms, on April 14, 2023, in Auburn, Washington.Lindsey Wasson (AP)

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected a request to block a new Washington state law banning the sale of certain semi-automatic rifles, one of three measures recently signed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in an effort to reduce gun violence.

The law, which took effect immediately when Inslee signed it in April, prohibits the sale, distribution, manufacture and importation of more than 50 types of guns, including AR- and AK-style rifles. The measure does not bar the possession of such weapons by people who already have them.

It drew a quick legal challenge from two gun-rights advocacy groups — the Second Amendment Foundation, based in Bellevue, and the Firearms Policy Coalition, based in Sacramento, California — as well as individual gun owners and a dealer. They sought a court order blocking the law pending a trial on the merits of their claim that it violated their constitutional right to bear arms.

“Considering the exceptional dangerousness of these weapons, the public interest in their regulation by the State outweighs the Plaintiffs’ desire to purchase more assault weapons,” U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan in Tacoma. “In light of recent mass deaths caused by assailants using assault weapons, it is appropriate for governmental bodies to find ways to protect the public from dangerous weapons, within the limits of the Second Amendment.”

A U.S. Supreme Court decision last June expanded gun rights, dividing judges and sowing confusion over what restrictions can remain on the books. It made more explicit that gun laws must be consistent with the “historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Bryan found that the state’s ban does fit in with the nation’s long history of regulating dangerous weapons, including colonial-era bans on “trap guns” that could be fired without the owner present. Other historical targets of regulation have included long-bladed Bowie knives and the Thompson submachine gun, or Tommy gun, popular with gangsters in the years after World War I.

Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, both Democrats, pushed for the Democratic-controlled Legislature to pass the ban on many semi-automatic weapons this session after years of failed attempts, making Washington the 10th state to enact such a law.

The U.S. is setting a record pace for mass killings this year, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. All of this year’s mass killings have involved firearms.

The two other laws signed by Inslee imposed a 10-day waiting period for firearms purchases and cleared the way for lawsuits against gun makers or sellers in certain cases.

A federal trial is underway in Oregon on a challenge to a voter-approved measure there that requires residents to undergo safety training and a background check to obtain a permit to buy a gun.

Voters narrowly passed it last November. The legislation also bans the sale, transfer or import of gun magazines with more than 10 rounds unless they are owned by a member of law enforcement or the military or were owned before the measure’s passage.

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