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Updated Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 07:13 AM

In Congress, few from state cross party line on gun control

By Kyung M. Song
Seattle Times Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — All four Democrats from Washington who were in Congress in 1994 voted for a ban on assault weapons, including the type of semiautomatic rifle used in last Friday's school shooting in Connecticut.

The three Republican members of the delegation who were in the House in 2008, on the other hand, co-sponsored a bill to "restore Second Amendment rights" by overturning a personal firearms ban in Washington, D.C.

That partisan divide was evident again Monday when several Democratic members — but no Republicans — called for tighter gun control in the wake of the Connecticut massacre in which 20 young children and seven adults were killed.

Rep. Jim McDermott of Seattle, one of the most vocal proponents for gun control in Congress, said few people besides the police and hunters should need guns. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray reiterated their opposition to assault weapons and for bolstering services for the mentally ill. All three Democrats, along with Rep. Norm Dicks of Bremerton, voted for the 1994 assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004.

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, who wasn't in Congress then, on Monday issued a statement calling for renewing the ban, along with a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips above 10 rounds per clip.

"These military-grade weapons serve no legitimate purpose in civilian life," Larsen said.

One Democratic exception was Rep. Adam Smith of Bellevue. Over the past decade, Smith several times has sided with the GOP for more permissive gun rights.

In 2009, for instance, Smith voted to again allow loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges. And in 1999, he bucked most House Democrats in voting for a bill the Clinton administration argued failed to close a loophole on background checks on firearms sold at gun shows.

On Monday, Smith's spokesman Ben Halle said Smith sees two key answers to reducing gun violence: better treatment for people with mental disorders and finding "some way to limit access to the most dangerous firearms."

Asked if Smith supports reinstating the ban on assault weapons, Halle declined to answer.

Democrats and Republicans have largely, if not always consistently, split along party lines on such issues as mandatory background checks on all gun buyers, waiting periods for purchases and liability protection for firearms makers.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Dave Reichert of Auburn, a former King County sheriff, said he was traveling Monday and unavailable to discuss whether the Connecticut shootings have altered his stance on gun control. In 2008, Reichert joined most of his House Republican colleagues in co-sponsoring the bill to overturn the District of Columbia's sweeping ban on handguns.

Supporters of the legislation blamed the high murder rates in Washington, D.C., partly on the fact that people couldn't legally arm themselves in self-defense. The Supreme Court later ruled that the District of Columbia's gun ban was unconstitutional.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, one of the House Republican leaders, said through a spokeswoman that she would work to make sure "what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, never happens again."

But McMorris Rodgers made no mention of firearms and said instead the nation needs to examine existing laws and study ways to make schools and neighborhoods safe.

In response to questions Monday, Murray's office said by email she has "repeatedly voted for an assault weapons ban and will do so again as soon as we can get a bill to the Senate floor."

That ban included versions of AK-47 rifles as well as the AR-15-style rifle used by gunman Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last week. Murray and Cantwell both voted to renew the ban for 10 more years in 2004, but Congress never passed it.

And earlier this year, McDermott introduced a bill to overturn the law allowing guns in national parks. Dicks is among the 13 co-sponsors of the Guns-Free National Park Act, which never made it out of the House Committee on National Resources, which is chaired by Republican Rep. Doc Hastings of Pasco.

As for former congressman and Gov.-elect Jay Inslee, he first ran for Congress in 1992 as a Second Amendment supporter from the conservative 4th District in Central Washington. He voted against the Brady Bill imposing a five-day waiting period on gun purchases.

But he subsequently staked out a largely pro-gun-control stance, including supporting the assault-weapons ban in 1994 and voting against allowing concealed weapons to be carried across state lines.

Kyung Song: 202-383-6108 or ksong@seattletimes.com


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