Washington state voters — with more than 59 percent approving — passed Initiative 594 in 2014, expanding background check requirements to include private sales, gun shows and online sales of firearms.
A year after the voters approved the law, the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, complained that I-594 had proven ineffective and that there had been “no arrests, no prosecutions and no convictions under the statute.”
That complaint ignores the fact that there were many instances when background checks prevented the sale of firearms to those who were not legally allowed to possess or obtain them, such as convicted felons. But, for once, we’ll agree with the Citizens Committee: More than denying the sale is necessary when someone knowingly fails a background check.
Legislation that has already passed the House with an 84-13 vote and is now before the Senate would change that. House Bill 1501 would require firearm dealers to report to the Washington State Patrol all instances when an application to purchase or transfer a firearm has been denied, such as because of a failed background check. It also would require the State Patrol to keep a database of reported denials, investigate those reports and refer cases to the state Attorney General’s Office for charges.
Additionally, it requires the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to keep a statewide automated system that would notify those who register with it, especially victims of domestic violence, when the subject of a restraining order or other court order has attempted and been denied the purchase of a firearm.
The bill is a logical extension of I-594 and would provide the enforcement that has been missing.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, who is a sergeant with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department, and Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island. It grew out of a discussion between the two over that lack of law enforcement and prosecution follow-up, Hansen told the Senate Law and Justice committee in a hearing Thursday in Olympia.
Hansen said that in 2016, there were 3,000 instances in the state where firearm sales had been denied because of failed background checks; 1,500 of them involved those with criminal records.
“If you’re a criminal and you walk into a firearms dealer and you know it’s illegal for you to try to buy a firearm … and you fail a background check, there should be an investigation, there should be an arrest and in an appropriate case there should be some prison time,” Hansen told the Senate panel.
Just as important is the legislation’s program to notify those who have sought the protection of a court order in instances of domestic violence, sexual assault and other cases to be notified when the subject of the court order has attempted to buy a gun.
Courtney Weaver, who was shot in the face and arm by her former boyfriend in 2010, told the Senate panel that the legislation would provide her and others like her peace of mind and the awareness necessary to protect herself. Her assailant is to be released from prison in 2019.
As a victim of assault, Weaver said, she has to stay two steps ahead of her abuser. The notification program would allow her to plan for her safety if she knew her assailant had attempted to purchase a firearm from a dealer and might then seek to steal one or buy one on the black market.
“Knowing this information I can coordinate with law enforcement and ensure that not only myself but my loved ones are protected,” Weaver said.
This has been a disappointing legislative session for those who hoped for sensible legislation regarding firearms. Nothing came of Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s request for legislation that would have barred assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines or even placed those weapons under the same licensing and waiting period requirements that now apply to handguns.
And again, legislation by Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Shoreline, requiring the safe storage of firearms, failed to reach the House floor.
The Senate, following overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, as well as from law enforcement and victim advocates, should give the people’s initiative the enforcement, prosecution and notification tools that will protect public safety.