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State senate committee clears bill to raise age to 21 for semi-automatic rifle purchases

State senate committee clears bill to raise age to 21 for semi-automatic rifle purchases. (KOMO News)

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A bill to prevent those under 21 from buying semi-automatic rifles has cleared a key state senate committee. Republicans argued it goes too far in the direction of gun control.

The original bill surfaced in January in the wake of a deadly shooting at a Mukilteo party a few years ago where the alleged shooter legally bought the weapon at age 19. But that bill languished.

Then came Florida. The suspect in Parkland school shooting was under 21 and legally obtained an assault weapon that he is accused of using to gun down students and staff.

"Unfortunately because of the horrible events we saw in Parkland, Florida the national conversation has sparked renewed interest in this," said bill sponsor Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle.

On Thursday, the state senate Ways and Means committee approved the bill (SB 6620) along party lines to prevent those under 21 from purchasing semi-automatic rifles.

"There are many many rifles that remain available to anyone between the age of 18 and 21, bolt action rifles and shotguns, completely exempted from this bill," Frockt said.

The bill requires the same enhanced background checks needed for purchasing handguns. "

The bottom line is that we need to have a full background check on people who are buying an AR-15 or AK-47 type of semi-automatic rifle," Frockt said.

The bill now goes to the full senate where it's fate is unknown, even though democrats are in the majority. Republicans and one democrat argue this is just another step in the direction of full gun control.

"Many people want to go to the 2nd Amendment. They think that's the way it's going to be solved. I don't believe that," said Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlach.

They argue more money should be spent on mental health intervention to help people before they decide to shoot up a school or party.

"I think we need a greater emphasis on prevention, mental health, spotting those signs, security first," said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-minority leader.

The supporters of the bill say it also has components to provide mobile applications for students to use during lockdowns and increased protections for students to anonymously report suspicious behavior.

"We have to make sure our schools are protected," said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond. "We have a whole generation of children who are growing up who are scared to go to school, scared to go to concerts, scared to go to the movie theaters and we have to change that culture."

The regular session ends March 8th with not much time to get it through the Senate and then the House, but sponsors are hopeful given the climate in the country to do something about school shootings.

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