Big changes are coming for a firearms staple.
Starting July 1, the sale of ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds will be banned in Washington. Importing, manufacturing and distributing them will be outlawed, too.
The only magazines allowed for sale and importing will be those with a maximum capacity of 10 cartridges under a law pushed through by Democrats and signed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this year.
Washington residents can continue buying magazines with greater capacity for handguns and rifles until the law takes effect. Any owned as of July 1 are unaffected by the law.
But firearm owners are wary that gun control forces will eventually push for a ban on the original larger-capacity magazines, even if it would be unenforceable because of the number of such magazines already in private hands.
“Right now in the Evergreen State, there is a rush on magazine purchasing,” wrote Dave Workman in a June 9 article for The Gun Mag, a publication of the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation.
There’s also a legal challenge aimed at upending the law.
The foundation, along with several other gun rights organization, filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month contending the new law violates constitutional protections under the Second and Fourteenth amendments. They’ve sought to block the law with an injunction but no hearing had been set as of Friday.
“Many of the most popular handguns and modern semiautomatic rifles come standard with magazines that hold more than ten rounds,” said Alan Gottlieb, the foundation’s founder and executive vice president.
“As we note in the lawsuit, there is no reliable proof that restrictions on new manufacturing or sales of such magazines will reduce violent crime,” he said. “This law unfairly and arbitrarily penalizes honest citizens for crimes they didn’t commit, in the hopes of preventing crimes they wouldn’t dream of committing.”
To help fund the legal fight, Aero Precision, a Tacoma company that markets firearms and components, says it will direct proceeds from the sale of its 30-round magazines to the foundation-led effort. The firm pledges to Washington residents that it “will prioritize those orders so our customers will receive their magazine order prior to July 1st.”
Attorney General Bob Ferguson has said he will “vigorously defend” the new law.
“All seven federal appellate courts to consider laws that ban the sale of high-capacity magazines upheld these laws as constitutional,” he said June 3.
Passage of the ban this year ended a string of setbacks in the Legislature, even as other significant measures to reduce gun-related violence became law as a result of initiative and legislation.
In the past five years, through initiative and legislation, the state has expanded background checks, created extreme risk protection orders, banned bump stocks, increased the age to buy semiautomatic weapons and prohibited the open carry of weapons near permitted demonstrations.
Under Senate Bill 5078, it will be illegal in Washington to make, sell, distribute or import a firearm magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. It does not bar possession of such larger capacity magazines.
It also makes the sale of a banned ammo magazine a violation of the state’s Consumer Protection Act. This enables the Attorney General’s Office to pursue violations by those who might try to sell them online to Washington residents.
Washington will be the 10th state with a limit on magazine capacity, according to Ferguson, who pushed for the ban in each of the past six legislative sessions.
Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, prime sponsor of the law, said the “average Washingtonian views it as a reasonable step” and contends most residents won’t notice a difference come July 1.
“As long as you are legally eligible to own a gun, you’ll be able to buy one. It’s just a question of what kind of accessory comes with it,” he said. “We’re not really impacting those people legitimately exercising their Second Amendment rights.”
Sales of ammunition magazines are not tracked by the state, so verifying the recent surge is difficult.
The state Department of Licensing does tally the sales of pistols and semiautomatic assault rifles — which can be outfitted with larger capacity magazines. Data from the state agency shows sales maintaining a steady clip, before and after the law passed.
In 2021, the department recorded 151,494 sales and transfers of handguns, down from 217,773 in 2020. This year, 30,676 were recorded through early June, state records show. Semiautomatic rifle purchases recorded with the state thus far this year total 4,868. There were 42,904 transfers recorded in 2020 and 35,729 in 2021.
Gun violence won’t end with this law, Liias said. But it can reduce the carnage. A person intent on carrying out a mass shooting could be forced to reload, and those moments may offer a chance to take down a shooter or for people to find cover, he said.
“It’s not a silver bullet, but it is one of several steps we have taken to make our communities safer,” he said. “We’re really hoping to stop impulsive young people in a mental crisis.”
That was the situation on a summer night in Mukilteo in 2016, when a 19-year-old man used an AR-15 rifle with a 30-round clip to kill Anna Bui, Jake Long and Jordan Ebner, while seriously wounding Will Kramer.
Liias represents Mukilteo and previously served on its city council. He cited that tragedy in the course of penning and passing of this law.
“We want to make it harder on people bent on chaos and death,” he said.