Initiative 594, which passed in November with 59 percent approval from Washington’s voters, becomes law Thursday.
Fears by opponents that the expansion of the background check law will turn lawful gun owners into criminals are unfounded. Misinformation, particularly before the election, continues to feed concerns that gun owners could unknowingly violate the law. But the law itself is straightforward and allows enough exceptions so as not to be a burden for gun owners.
Basically, the law extends the background check requirement to purchases and transfers made at firearms dealers, adding gun shows, online sales and sales between unlicensed individuals. A number of exceptions are made including for gifts to immediate family members, which includes nieces, nephews and first cousins; antique firearms made before 1898; temporary transfers between spouses or necessary to prevent death or bodily harm; temporary transfers at shooting ranges, competitions or hunting safety courses; to a licensed gunsmith for service or repair; or among law enforcement officers acting in their official capacity.
In return for a bit of bureaucracy, Washington state residents can have greater confidence that firearms are made more difficult to obtain by felons, those convicted of domestic violence and the mentally ill.
While we’re on the subject of sensible gun laws, we’ll reiterate our support for legislation that Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Shoreline, intends to bring up in the next legislative session. The bill would require that firearms be safely stored where children are present, providing for a charge of reckless endangerment if an unsupervised child under 16 is allowed and gains access to a loaded unsecured weapon.
The accidental shooting late last month of a 3-year-old Lake Stevens boy apparently by a 4-year-old friend in the younger boy’s home illustrates the need. The shooting, in which the toddler suffered extensive injuries to his mouth and face, remains under investigation. The Snohomish County Prosecutor should, as should all prosecutors in the state, have the discretion to charge reckless endangerment in such a case if the facts warrant. But such discretion must be outlined in state law because of the state Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling in July that said Kitsap County prosecutors couldn’t pursue a criminal case against a man who allegedly allowed his girlfriend’s 9-year-old son access to a handgun. The boy brought the weapon to school where it fired accidently and injured a fellow student. The high court ruled that nothing in state law held the man responsible.
Kagi’s bill will remove the doubt and remind gun owners of their responsibility to safety store their firearms.