Washington State legislators voted to close a crucial loophole in limiting access to firearms for people who threaten their intimate partners this week.
State law has already prohibited people with domestic violence protection orders from purchasing guns, but domestic violence experts have also identified harassment—even without a prior history of physical violence—as one of the biggest associations with future, lethal gun violence. Now, both houses of the state legislature have voted overwhelmingly to add harassment with a domestic violence motivation as one of the convictions that prevents someone from owning a gun.
On Tuesday night, the state House voted to pass Senate Bill 6298, 94-4, despite protest from the National Rifle Association (NRA). Now it will go to the governor's desk for signing.
"The vote on this is crazy," Tamaso Johnson, policy director at the Washington Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said. "To see the 94 'yes' votes in the House on this firearm restriction, it's been encouraging. It shows that while the national conversation seems pretty frozen, there can be some local action to protect survivors."
Between 2006 and 2016, 563 people were killed as a result of domestic violence in Washington State, more than a quarter of them in King County. More than half of the perpetrators used guns. According to Johnson, whose organization been studying reviews of fatal domestic violence cases, a documented pattern of harassment is more strongly linked to a domestic violence death than even a history of physical abuse.
Nevertheless, the NRA urged its members to contact state legislators to oppose Senate Bill 6298, arguing that the number of crimes included under the umbrella of harassment was excessive. In Washington State, harassment is a gross misdemeanor that includes threats of harm or property damage with a "reasonable fear" that those threats will be carried out.
Federal laws have also made it illegal for people with domestic violence convictions to possess firearms, but that much requires federal agencies to enforce the law. In the absence of federal gun reform legislation (and often, federal law enforcement), states have picked up the slack in passing laws that attempt to limit gun access to people with domestic violence records. Still, even states struggle with enforcement of those laws. Two years ago, Washington State legislators passed a law limiting gun access to people with domestic violence or sexual assault protection orders out against them, and local officials have since created a regional task force to try and enforce it.