Washington restrictions on high-capacity gun magazines take effect July 1

Violations of the new law would be a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in county jail

Updated: June 29, 2022 - 7:03pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Starting Friday, the sale of firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds will be banned in Washington state. Importing, manufacturing and distributing what are called high-capacity magazines will also be illegal.

Per Senate Bill 5078 – passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this year – the only magazines allowed for sale and importation into Washington will be those with a maximum capacity of 10 rounds.

Any magazines currently owned that hold more than 10 rounds are unaffected by the new law.

Violations of the new law would be a gross misdemeanor, which in Washington is punishable by up to 364 days in county jail, a maximum fine of up to $5,000, or both.

Earlier this month, the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation and other gun rights organizations filed a federal lawsuit against Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and several other officials, claiming the new law violates constitutional protections under the Second and 14th amendments.

The gun rights groups have sought to block the new law with an injunction but no hearing had been set as of Wednesday.

“Many of the most popular handguns and modern semiautomatic rifles come standard with magazines that hold more than 10 rounds,” said Alan Gottlieb, the SAF’s founder and executive vice president, in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

The impending restrictions have so far resulted in an increase in sales of high-capacity magazines.

“Give credit where it is due,” Dave Workman, SAF’s senior editor, told The Center Square via email. “Jay Inslee, Bob Ferguson and the Democrats who voted for this are responsible for literally flooding the marketplace with standard/original capacity magazines.”

Workman expressed skepticism about certain aspects of the law and its intended effect.

For example, the law prohibits anyone from buying high-capacity magazines out of state and bringing them into Washington.

“Honestly, I’m not sure it can be enforced,” Workman said. “Magazines are not serialized, so there is really no way to tell when one was made or where it was purchased.”

He also doubted the law will have the impact on crime that proponents claim.

The Center Square asked if other states with similar high-capacity magazine laws have seen a reduction in gun crime.

“Not from what I can see because of the abundance of existing magazines that hold more than 10 rounds,” Workman answered. “It would take a couple of years’ worth of data to determine whether such prohibitions are working. But that presumes criminals will be affected by the ban, and they never are.”

A 2019 study found no statistically significant association between state-level high-capacity magazine bans and homicide rates.

A 2020 RAND Corporation review indicated that there were few methodologically rigorous studies on the impact of high-capacity magazine bans on violent crime rates. The review noted “that there is inconclusive evidence for the effect of high-capacity magazine bans on firearm homicides.”

The findings of another 2020 study examining fatal mass shootings in the U.S. from 1984 through 2017 “suggest that laws requiring firearm purchasers to be licensed through a background check process supported by fingerprints and laws banning LCMs [large-capacity magazines] are the most effective gun policies for reducing fatal mass shootings.”

Workman reiterated his point that criminals do not obey the law.

“Criminals will get their hands on such magazines, even if Washington anti-gunners come back in 2-3 years to push for a complete ban, even on existing magazines,” he said.

The Center Square reached out to the Attorney General’s Office for comment on the new law, including asking if there are plans to ban all high-capacity magazines with no exemptions for those who already possess them. The Attorney General’s Office did not respond.

Ferguson has publicly promised to “vigorously defend” the new law.