Washington State Senate Bill 5737 assault weapons ban is an assault on individual liberty

By Kyle Harding, Opinion Editor

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Gun owners are often labelled as paranoid for their distrust of the government, but how unfounded are their fears?

When a proposed bill in the Washington State Senate authorizes county sheriffs to inspect gun owners’ homes without warrants, with jail sentences for non-compliance, the paranoia looks more and more reasonable.

The original version of Senate Bill 5737, a proposed law banning the sale of guns defined by the bill as assault weapons and mandating registration of those guns if they are already in a person’s possession, would do exactly that. It also proposed that the registration of these guns and the background check of the owner would have to be repeated once a year. That is nothing more than a scheme to discourage people from exercising their rights while extracting money from those who are not discouraged and punishing them for the sin of owning guns that are deemed unacceptable by the political elite.

This portion of the bill has been removed but only after nationwide media attention and the realization that it makes SB 5737 nearly impossible to pass. Even the edited version of the bill is unlikely to pass this year as it did not make it out of legislative committe last week, but some version of an assault weapons ban will surely be on the docket for next year.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Seattle democrat Adam Kline, claims that he did not know the provision was in the bill. That is hard to believe considering Kline, along with SB 5737 co-sponsor Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, sponsored senate bills 5475 and 6396 in 2005 and 2010. These bills contained the same language mandating owners to submit to home inspections. Even if we are buying Kline’s obvious lie about this, is it really OK for a senator to be sponsoring bills he cannot even be bothered to read? It seems that—as bad as it is for a lawmaker to admit to sponsoring bills he does not even know the content of—it is preferable to admitting to attempting a wholesale violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Ed Murray told the Seattle Times that he knows it is unconstitutional and has little chance of passing. He says it is “a guiding light of where we need to go.” Roughly translated, this means he knows the bill violates a person’s right against illegal search, but he dreams of a future where that kind of government authority is accepted by the people and upheld by the courts.

The bill’s sponsors call the provision a mistake. I believe them. It is a mistake. However the mistake to them is not that their legislation shreds normal citizens’ civil liberties, violates the constitution and treats them like they are criminals. The mistake to them is that the bill is now less palatable to the public and less likely to be passed into law.

The vast majority of gun owners, myself included, oppose assault weapons bans even when they do not give the police warrantless access to our homes, not only based on the ban’s arbitrary definition of what an assault weapon is but because we believe even these supposedly terrifying weapons to be arms protected under the Second Amendment. But those who do not own or even like firearms should be just as wary of laws that erode essential liberties.

Every time I have heard someone make the argument, “Nobody is trying to take your guns away,” it seems to be followed by a list of all the guns they want taken away. Whenever gun owners contend that we believe registration is intended as a stepping stone to confiscation, we are told that we are crazy. Rarely does anyone have the nerve to come right out and tell you that they want the police to be able to enter citizen’s houses at will. Most of those who wish to trample upon your rights at least pay lip service to those rights while they are working to undermine them. When a Fourth Amendment-gutting law is passed, it is accompanied by assurances that it will only be used against terrorists or drug dealers or some other boogeyman du jour. Security-obsessed Americans,
ignorant of the consequences of giving law enforcement more power, can hardly wait to give up their rights to a paternalistic government.

But Kline, Murray and Kohl-Welles had apparently gotten so comfortable in their positions of authority that they were brazen enough to aim their unconstitutional law at a group of people who are, by definition, law-abiding: those who would register the guns they already own.

In a time when people believe more laws equal more safety and safety is our society’s holy grail, the updated version of SB 5337, without a provision for home inspection, may not sound all that egregious to people who are not proponents of gun rights. But remember the bill’s original intent. Kline, Murray and Kohl-Welles want police inspections of houses to be an accepted norm. That will be the next step.

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