First, a quick Civics 101 refresher. The Constitution is a restriction on government power, not a limitation of the people’s power. The Washington State Constitution begins with Article 1, “Declaration of Rights.” Section 24 of Article 1 states, “SECTION 24 RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS. The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.”
There can be no question that the right of the INDIVIDUAL CITIZEN to keep and bear arms SHALL NOT BE IMPAIRED. The common English meaning of “impaired” is “weakened or damaged.”
Washington’s current concealed pistol license law took effect in 1961. It is one of the most successful in the country and has stood the test of time. RCW 9.41.070 governs the application of the state concealed pistol licensing program. The very first paragraph of 9.41.070 states, “The applicant’s constitutional right to bear arms shall not be denied unless… “and goes on to list specific disqualifying conditions (e.g. felony or certain misdemeanor conviction, under 21 years of age, etc.). So the exercise of the right to bear arms with a concealed pistol license is clearly linked to Article 1, Section 24.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the use of poll tests – the requirement to pass a test to exercise a fundamental right – in this case voting – more than 60 years ago. Why? Because they were found to be discriminatory. The same is true of any “proficiency test” to exercise the explicit, enumerated right under Article 1, Section 24.
The net effect of SSB 5174, and its House counterpart, HB 1315, is clearly to impair an individual’s right to bear arms. Section 1.1(1)(b) strikes the language “The applicant’s constitutional right to bear arms,” thus severing the concealed license program from the fundamental, enumerated rights listed in Article 1, Section 24.
Again, why? In all likelihood to eliminate or reduce a successful court challenge to SSB 5174 on constitutional grounds. This is NOT how we amend the Constitution to restrict a right.
As noted previously, Washington’s CPL law has been in effect for nearly 58 years. And throughout that time, no “poll test” has been required to exercise it. Why now? Where is the problem that has never made itself obvious until 2019? How frequently is the law abused? Rarely, if ever.
RCW 9a.16.020 states the use of force is legal. “(3) Whenever used by a party about to be injured, or by another lawfully aiding him or her, in preventing or attempting to prevent an offense against his or her person.” The use of lethal force is generally considered legal if the threatened individual reasonably believes he or she is facing a potentially lethal threat or a threat of great bodily harm.
When you can use a gun to defend yourself is not rocket science.
Both FBI data and several outside studies indicate most defensive gun uses occur at distances measured in feet, typically fifteen feet or less (the distance across a room or when directly facing your assailant). What degree of proficiency is needed to strike a target to prevent a lethal attack at that distance?
Again, it is not rocket science.
And yet SSB 5174 calls for a minimum of eight hours of training, PLUS additional time for detailed proficiency testing with every firearm a licensee might choose to carry with his or her license. How many hours ultimately will be spent to qualify for a CPL? Impairment! Again, we’re not training rocket scientists here, folks, we ensuring a concealed carrier has the minimum knowledge and skills to responsibly exercise a fundamental, enumerated constitutional right. Where is the problem? How many “bad” defensive shooting occur every year in Washington?
Also keep in mind that in most cases, use of a firearm in self-defense does not even include firing the gun. Merely telling an assailant that you are armed, or displaying a firearm, is sufficient to deter the threat. Several nationwide studies, from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and others, indicate defensive gun uses occur from tens of thousands to as many as a million or more instances a year.
That breaks down to likely a thousand to many thousand in Washington every year. Where are the bad shootings by CPL holders? And this is without any mandated training, although many if not most CPL holders DO attend various classes without a mandate.
More than 600,000 Washingtonians currently hold valid Washington CPLs.
Why duplicate renewal training every five years, other than to discourage renewal of the license? Do we make drivers take a new driving test or even a written test every renewal cycle? No. And far, far more Americans are killed annually in automobile crashes (approximately 37,000) than lose their lives in what are determined to be “bad” defensive shootings.
It would save more lives if training and testing were mandated for every driver’s license renewal.
Most of the states that mandate a training requirement to acquire a concealed carry license merely state that the individual must pass a suitable course, typically conducted by a nationally-recognized gun safety organization such as the National Rifle Association (YES, admit it or not, the NRA is the daddy rabbit of firearms safety training in the US, in many cases to include development of law enforcement courses). And rarely do they require refresher training.
SSB 5174 and HB 1315 serve no useful purpose other than to reduce that 700,000 figure significantly. These bills, like most of the other gun control bills being offered, are punitive in nature and focus not on keeping guns out of criminals’ hands, but on further restricting law-abiding gun owners.
SHALL NOT BE IMPAIRED? Remember?
(And as an aside, fourteen states are now what we call “Constitutional carry” states. The only license you need to carry a concealed handgun in those states is the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution. Fourteen states that previously required a license have now repealed that requirement in state law, although most still issue licenses for reciprocity purposes. It must be nice to live in a state where your government trusts you! After all, we’re supposed to trust them, despite scandal after scandal.)