Washington GOP looking to loosen background check requirements

Washington State Republicans want to create an exception to the state’s expansive background check law, which was passed in 2014.

The measure being considered by the state legislature – Senate Bill 6158 – would create an exception in the state’s criminal background check law that allows the transfer of firearms at a nonprofit charity event without first submitting to a check.

I-594 – an initiative that Evergreen State voters sent to the legislature, where it was passed in 2014 – made criminal background checks a legal requirement for any firearms transfer, with a few exceptions, which include the transfer of firearms as gifts between immediate family members, and temporarily transferring a firearm to someone in the interest of safety and defense.

Gun control groups and state Democrats have advocated against the GOP-backed bill, arguing that it would begin to chip away at the state’s new regulations, and make it easier for criminals and dangerous individuals to acquire firearms, according to area media website Crosscut.

The Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a Washington gun control group, lauded comments from Shawn Vestal, an Op/Ed writer for The Statesman-Review, lauding I-594’s impact on limiting illegal gun purchases. “A hundred people who weren’t supposed to own guns were not allowed to buy guns, at least at one point of sale. It’s not many, but it’s not nothing,” he said.

And Jamal Raad, Washington Democrats’ spokesman, told Crosscut that the measure would allow the state’s “conservative and Republican political groups to give out guns to their members at fundraisers without voter-approved universal background checks.”

However, Rep. Bruce Dammeier, a Puyallup Republican,  the bill’s sponsor has said that the exception would only be temporary, and a background check would have to be completed through a federally licensed firearms dealer before the transfer is officially completed, according to the Crosscut article.

But Crosscut also points out that there is no language in the bill detailing this process, and that a non-partisan Senate report says the bill will create “an additional exemption to the background check requirement.”

The measure was approved by the Senate Committee on Law and Justice on Feb. 2, and will next be heard by the Washington Senate’s Rules Committee.

This move from Washington Republicans comes at the same time as other states – Oregon and Delaware among them – are considering legislation to tighten down their state’s background check laws even more.

And last year, Oregon passed a law to create a universal background check requirement that applied to the transfer of any firearms in the state.

This move to slightly loosen background check requirements also comes at a time of record months and weeks of background check applications being processed by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.