Washington state’s gun sales background check law went into effect Thursday and requires checks be performed on all firearms-related transactions — to include sales through a licensed dealer, at gun shows, online and between unlicensed persons.
The law also states that it’s illegal for felons, persons convicted of domestic violence crimes and the mentally ill from possessing firearms.
Proponents of the law say that background checks are vital to ensuring guns are not purchased or transferred to those who shouldn’t have them, but those in opposition question the effectiveness of the bill, calling it a poorly written document that could cause confusion in enforcement and have unintended consequences for legitimate gun owners.
John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, told Guns.com that it’s law-abiding citizens who will have to go through background checks, not criminals, and the fee imposed on them will serve as a gun tax, making is costly for people — namely poor minorities — from obtaining guns for protection.
“The initiative will have two primary impacts: reduce gun ownership among poor people and create a de facto complete registration system of guns for law-abiding citizens,” Lott said. “Whatever is immediately planned for enforcement, eventually there will be undercover operations where police try to buy guns from private individuals without going through an FFL.”
Though Lott didn’t say whether a gun registry would be a good or a bad thing for gun owners, it is a sentiment echoed throughout the gun rights community. In fact, there are several laws on the books meant to prevent it from happening. One prohibits the federal government from maintaining a national registry and another keeps the National Instant Criminal Background Check System from being used to do so. Successful background check records are required to be destroyed within 24 hours after an applicant has passed the background check.
As for investigations into law-abiding gun owners, Washington state police say there are no immediate plans to create a “I-594 Squad” to actively look for violations.
“If we were to get a tip about egregious behavior, we would first offer it to the local sheriff who has primary jurisdiction. By agreement, we offer local sheriffs the right of first refusal on felony investigations,” Bob Calkins, spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, told Guns.com.
The most likely way for law enforcement to be tipped off about firearms violators would be through the investigation of some other crime, Calkins said.
There are always growing pains in trying to figure out how to enforce new laws and it’s not unusual for enforcement to take time to catch up to the passing of a bill.
“It’s challenging enough when a law is passed by legislators and we participated in the hearing process and know exactly what their intent was,” Calkins said. “With an initiative we don’t have the benefit of that.”
To encourage compliance with the new law, language was added that waives the sales tax for the selling or transfer of guns between private, unlicensed parties who have fulfilled all background check requirements. Sales or transfers must be done through a licensed dealer if neither party is licensed and the dealer can charge an administrative fee. Further, the law states that background checks would not be required for the gifting of guns between immediate family members or for antiques.
The background law could have minor fiscal impacts on state services, according to an analysis conducted by the Olympia Police Department in the state capital. Most of the administrative work is done by civilians, so officers’ workloads won’t be significantly affected in that jurisdiction.
OPD typically gets about 60 transfer requests per month, administrative services manager Laura Wohl told Guns.com. Each one can take anywhere between 15 minutes and an hour to complete. In total, the department could see an increase in hours upwards of 40 percent or about $3,400 per year in increased personnel costs.
The background check law has received much criticism since its beginnings as Initiative 594, which was brought before voters on Nov. 4 and passed by almost 60 percent.
An anti-background check rally is scheduled for Dec. 13 at the Washington Capitol in Olympia, where demonstrators plan on bringing their firearms and transferring them to one another in protest of the new law. More than 6,000 people on the event’s Facebook page said they’d attend the rally.
Gavin Seim, former congressional candidate and the rally’s organizer, doesn’t expect any pushback from authorities, he told Guns.com.
“Police are unlikely to respond,” Seim said. “They are already looking for ways to say we are not breaking the legislation, even though they know we are. They know this people of liberty is not here to negotiate, but to affirm our rights.”
Several gun control groups backed by billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg poured about $4 million into promoting the initiative and have vowed to take their model on the road. Everytown For Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action submitted several hundred thousand signatures for a similar initiative in Nevada and have their sights on Arizona and Maine next.
The coalition is said to be targeting more than 12 states for background check measures and could participate in legislative battles in as many as 20 states, USA Today reported.
Locally, the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility also backed the initiative and claims Washington as the first state to close the background check loophole by popular vote.
“That means it will be harder for criminals and other dangerous people to obtain guns while responsible gun owners will enjoy their Second Amendment rights just as before,” WAGR’s Geoff Potter told Guns.com. “That’s going to reduce crime and save lives in our state.”