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Bill in Legislature would make it a crime for failure to store guns properly

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — Two gun control measures discussed in Olympia Thursday included one that would raise the age to buy semi-automatic, assault-style rifles to 21 and another that would require gun owners to safely store their weapons or face prosecution.

More than two decades ago, Nyla Fritz lost her brother in a school shooting in Moses Lake.

“Listen to those words, a 14-year-old was armed with a rifle and two handguns and 78 rounds of ammunition,” Fritz said.

Fritz is the human face behind a big campaign pushing for stricter gun laws in Washington state.

“People are stealing guns; significant guns used in robberies and murders are stolen weapons,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Gun control advocates had the governor, prosecutors and police officers on their side Thursday.

“Just as we see at the state level, in Seattle more people are killed by guns than in car crashes,” Seattle Police Assistant Chief Robert Merner said.

They feel it’s reasonable for gun owners to face felony charges if someone steals or uses their unsecured firearm to commit a crime.

“This isn’t just about mass shootings, this is suicide, this is accidental shootings,” Fritz said.

The idea is to require all gun owners to use a lock box. Supporters demonstrated opening a lock box in two seconds to show how fast it would be to open one.

But the demonstration wasn't convincing for state Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn.

“There is a whole lot of downsides because they couldn’t get to the gun in time in case there was a home invasion or an emergency, which is the whole point of having it in the first place,” Stokesbary said.

Stokesbary added that a lock box may not be feasible for all gun owners and he is criticizing the bill as ‘a one size fits all’ initiative.

He noted that no Republicans had signed on to the bill, saying the devil is in the details.

“The gun owner who doesn’t have kids at home (and who) stores the gun out of sight could be liable to five years in jail but the thief would only go to jail for maybe 30 days; that doesn’t seem right to me,” Stokesbary said.

But others who say it’s common sense legislation packed a hearing room pleading for support.

“The stories don’t seem to be making a difference. I would urge you, what would compel you, what would move this body to save these children?” said one woman.

If Republicans do not support the bill, it may not go anywhere. Similar safe storage bills have failed since 2013, despite the fact that gun control advocates spend nearly five times more money on the issue than gun rights groups. The data is from last year, according to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.