Puget Sound SRA's Open Letter on ESSB 5078

Against the criminalization of law abiding citizens

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Against the criminalization of law abiding citizens

EDITORS NOTE: This letter was penned by Puget Sound Chapter of the Socialist Rifle Association.

An Open Letter

Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5078 (ESSB 5078) seeks to prohibit the manufacture, sale, importation, and distribution of so-called “large capacity” firearm magazines (defined as any magazine with a capacity greater than 10 rounds).  The undersigned, including the Puget Sound chapter of the Socialist Rifle Association, call upon the House of Representatives to vote against this bill for the following reasons:

* This bill is based on a flawed analysis that does not take into account the construction of modern firearms.  To suggest in Section 1 that the “vast majority” of handguns have a magazine capacity lower than 10 rounds is wrong and misleading.  Most common firearms in production have magazines ranging in standard capacity from 19 to 33 rounds, the banning of which would unfairly create a class of individuals prohibited from owning an otherwise common firearm accessory - that class being anyone who does not already own standard capacity magazines.

* This bill contains carveouts for law enforcement in Section 3.2.a and 3.2.b - this suggests that law enforcement is held to a lower standard of criminality than the citizens they police and is plainly a “rules for thee but not for me” situation.  Gun control laws that apply to citizens should and indeed must apply to law enforcement - a badge is no guarantee of good behavior.

* Enforcement of this bill is impractical and depends on the judgment of law enforcement personnel.  Most magazines are not serialized - determination of provenance will be difficult if not impossible, and as history shows police will use this subjectivity to disproportionately target and criminalize marginalized persons.  We expect that this bill will be used as a pretext for charge enhancements, forcing heavier penalties on marginalized persons based on a crime they cannot be broadly proven to have committed.

* Magazines are firearm accessories and their mechanical systems are subject to wear and tear.  This bill, in Section 2.36, unfairly takes away a magazine owner’s right to repair these accessories by criminalizing the possession of parts kits.  

* This bill utterly, contemptibly ignores most of the victims of gun violence in the state of Washington: more than 75% of gun deaths in this state are due to suicide, a tragic situation but one where magazine size is absolutely irrelevant.  Arbitrary and capricious laws regarding magazine size do nothing to ameliorate this tragedy.

* The creation of a new gross misdemeanor will burden a court system already straining under the pandemic, and further impact marginalized people already struggling with a systemic tendency to criminalize and then abandon them.

* And ultimately the bill ignores the desires of the people most affected by it - thousands testified in writing against this bill, stating that it does everything to burden them and nothing to protect them.  

Representative Valdez spoke in committee of “sending a message,” and passage of this bill will indeed send a message - just not the one the Representative thinks.  The message being sent here is that marginalized persons - Black, indigenous, and people of color, and LGBTQ+ persons - do not deserve the chance to defend themselves, and the ability to purchase a common firearm accessory will be taken from them.  This is a dismaying message to send to a diverse and growing bloc of voters who need to be supported, and if not supported by the Democrats in Washington will turn elsewhere.

Gun control has long been a tool to oppress marginalized and working-class people, and this empty, performative piece of legislation is no exception.  Left to the discretion of law enforcement the effects of this bill will be disproportionately felt by marginalized persons in Washington, making life in a time of pandemic and rising white nationalism even more precarious.

We respectfully request that the Washington State House of Representatives votes against this legislation.


The Puget Sound chapter of the Socialist Rifle Association