AR-15 rifles are displayed on the exhibit floor during the National Rifle Association annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 20, 2016. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

AR-15 rifles are displayed on the exhibit floor during the National Rifle Association annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 20, 2016. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

Editorial: Work ahead to protect, carry out I-1639

The voters’ demand for stronger gun laws needs the courts’ protection and sufficient state resources.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Surprising exactly no one, the National Rifle Association and the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation have filed suit seeking to block Initiative 1639, which Washington state’s voters passed with nearly 60 percent approval in a high-turnout election.

More than 1.8 million of the state’s voters approved the initiative which makes several changes to state law regarding firearms, including raising the age limit to purchase a semi-automatic rifle to 21, from the current 18.

It’s that change in the age limit that the lawsuit is targeting, even though it seeks to block the entire law, including I-1639’s provisions to bolster background checks, require periodic firearms safety training, require a 10-day waiting period and require safe storage of firearms in homes where they could be accessible to children or others prohibited from handling guns.

The lawsuit, along with the NRA and the state firearms group as plaintiffs, names several young adults whom the suit claims would be harmed by I-1639 because it “impermissibly burdens their exercise of rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.”

The “impermissible” part, of course, will be up to the courts to decide, but note that the complaint hinges on the word “burdens,” rather than “prevents.” I-1639, as was made clear to voters before the election, doesn’t prohibit those between the ages of 18 and 21 from possessing semi-automatic rifles, which many would argue would violate their Second Amendment rights. Those young adults will remain eligible to possess them in their homes, businesses and under other circumstances, just as they are allowed now to possess — yet not purchase — handguns and ammunition.

It may indeed be a burden to have someone else, over the age of 21, purchase a semi-automatic rifle for their ownership, but the state’s voters have determined they want that additional step, providing a measure of security they see as necessary.

And it’s an additional step that might have made a difference in whether Allen Christopher Ivanov, a 19-year-old Mukilteo man, would have been able to obtain a Ruger-brand AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, which he used on July 30, 2016, to kill three young adults — Anna Bui, Jordan Ebner and Jake Long — and seriously injure a fourth, Will Kramer, at a Mukilteo house party. Ivanov had purchased the semi-automatic weapon just four days before, and spent 20 minutes in his car, outside the party, reading the weapon’s instructions.

Even if upheld, I-1639 and other laws that citizens and Legislature have passed still depend on the allocation of resources needed to enforce and administer them.

State officials with the Department of Licensing, as reported by KING-TV earlier this month, say that records for more than 525,000 handgun purchases — going back three years or longer — have yet to be entered in a state database used by law enforcement agencies and courts. Police routinely check the database as part of risk assessment when they serve a warrant. Courts issuing protection orders use the database to confirm if firearms have been surrendered as required.

The records, submitted by gun dealers as part of the required background check, are scanned into the database but take about two to three minutes of data entry by department employees to complete. About 15,000 records of sale or transfer are received each month.

The state Legislature this year did allocate $300,000 to the Department of Licensing for equipment and software upgrades that are to more completely collect the information on forms and reduce the processing time for each form to about 20 seconds. But that system has yet to be implemented.

But a gap of three years significantly compromises the effectiveness of the information regarding sales and transfers and jeopardizes the safety of first responders and victims of assault.

Initiative 1639 will require similar resources from the Legislature and monitoring by state agencies.

The voters have done their job. It’s now up to courts, lawmakers and state officials to deliver on what the voters required.

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