The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility has filed Initiative 594, and is now campaigning for its approval. The initiative is meant to close loopholes in laws about background checks of people who want to buy or receive guns. Here’s my plain-English translation. I’ve adjusted the sequence of some text to make it more understandable. And I’ve referred the reader to the full text for some details. Update: Please note that I am neither arguing for nor against the initiative. I am merely summarizing it as accurately as I can in order to better understand it (I’m not a lawyer).
I’m sorry to tell you that, even when cast in plain English, this is complex legislation. I’ve noticed that some sections overlap and might contradict each other, and that some information seems to be missing. Where I had to guess the intent, I marked it with (?). I highlighted text having to do with pistols in purple.
This is an act that changes several existing laws and creates a new law (see the full text for a list of them) about background checks of people who buy or receive guns.
Section 1: Reasons and scope
- Explains the reasons for background checks. (I’m skipping this part to concentrate on the parts that affect people; see the full text.)
- This law extends background checks to all gun sales and transfers, except gifts between family members. Also, it doesn’t apply to antique firearms.
- Unlicensed persons who sell or transfer a gun between themselves, following background check requirements, don’t have to pay sales tax to the state.
Section 2: Definitions
Defines terms; see the full text.
Section 3: When background checks are required
(See Section 9 for penalties and sentencing guidelines related to this section.)
Background checks are required for all sales or transfers of firearms where one of the people involved lives in Washington. This includes sales and transfers:
- Involving dealers
- At gun shows
- by unlicensed persons
State or federal law may create exceptions to this rule.
To sell or transfer a firearm, either the seller/giver or the buyer must be a licensed dealer. If neither party is a dealer, they have to do the transaction thru a dealer. Here’s how this works:
- The seller/giver takes the firearm to a dealer.
- The dealer processes the sale as if the firearm were part of his inventory. This includes obeying state and federal laws such as background check requirements and record-keeping requirements.
- The seller/giver can get the firearm back from the dealer during the background check. If he does, then before the sale/transfer is completed, the seller/giver and the receiver have to go back to the dealer; and the seller/giver has to return the firearm to the dealer.
- The receiver has to fill out forms enabling a background check and give them to the dealer.
- If the background check shows that the receiver isn’t supposed to get the firearm, the dealer gives it back to the seller/giver.
- The dealer can charge a fee for his services.
- Transfers between immediate family members.
- Antique firearms.
- Temporarily loaning a firearm to someone who faces imminent violence. But the receiver can’t be someone who isn’t allowed to have the firearm under state or federal law.
- Police agencies and military services, and members of them who are doing their official duties.
- A gunsmith, while receiving a firearm for repair or returning it to its owner.
Temporary transfer of a firearm is okay:
- If it’s between spouses or domestic partners.
- If it happens at a shooting range, and the firearm is kept there.
- If it happens at a shooting competition or performance, and the firearm is kept there.
- If it’s to a child under 18, for adult-supervised hunting, etc. The supervisor must not be prohibited from having a firearm.
- For use while hunting; but the receiver must not be prohibited from having a firearm.
- If the receiver inherited the firearm, and it isn’t a pistol.
- If the receiver inherited a pistol, for 60 days. After that time, the receiver must either lawfully transfer the pistol, or tell the Department of Licensing that he wants to keep it.
Section 4: Rules about when a dealer can turn over a firearm
A dealer can’t turn over a firearm to a receiver until one of the following happens (but there are additional rules about pistols, see Section 5) :
- All background checks show that the receiver is allowed to have the firearm.
- It’s not a pistol, and 10 business days have passed since the dealer asked for the background check.
- It’s a pistol, and 60 business days have passed since the dealer asked for the background check, if the receiver doesn’t have a driver’s license | state ID card or hasn’t lived in Washington for 90 days.
Section 5: More rules about turning over a pistol
(There are also some pistol rules at the end of Sections 3 and 4.)
This section doesn’t apply to:
- Sales to licensed dealers for resale.
- Antique firearms.
A dealer can’t turn over a pistol to somebody until one of the following happens:
- The receiver has a concealed carry license, and the dealer records its information. It can’t be a temporary emergency license. It can’t be a license that was issued before 7/1/96 unless the issuing agency did a records search for disqualifying crimes.
- The police chief|sheriff gives the dealer written approval. The officer must check a listed information source (see the full text) to make sure the receiver is allowed to get the firearm.
- Section 4 requirements have been met.
(But in addition, the dealer has to follow these police and court-related rules.)
If the receiver has an outstanding arrest warrant, the dealer will hold the pistol until the warrant has been served and the receiver has appeared in court. How this works:
- The dealer tells the local jurisdiction that the receiver wants to buy a pistol.
- Within 72 hours, the local jurisdiction tells the dealer whether there is an arrest warrant for the receiver.
- If the receiver’s warrant is not for a crime that would make him ineligible to get a pistol, and the dealer asks to be told when the warrant is satisfied, the local jurisdiction tells the dealer as soon as it’s satisfied. This lets the dealer release the hold on the pistol.
If the local jurisdiction doesn’t yet have enough information to tell whether the receiver can get a pistol, and the chief of police|sheriff thinks he shouldn’t, due to a listed legal action that’s underway (see the full text), the local jurisdiction can hold up the pistol sale|transfer for up to 30 days so they can search the records or confirm the receiver’s ID. A district or municipal court can extend the hold for up to 30 more days. The police chief|sheriff will notify the dealer about holds in writing, and about applications to courts to extend holds.
In order to buy a pistol, a buyer must fill out an application form in triplicate and give it to the dealer. The form will have this warning printed on it:
CAUTION: Although state and local laws do not differ, federal law and state law on the possession of firearms differ. If you are prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm, you may be prosecuted in federal court. State permission to purchase a firearm is not a defense to a federal prosecution.
The form collects information about the buyer and the pistol (see the full text). If the buyer knowingly enters false information about his identity or his eligibility to have a pistol, he’s guilty of false swearing.
By the end of the business day, the dealer sends the form to the police chief|sheriff where the buyer lives, along with related documentation and a statement that the buyer is eligible to have a pistol.
The form collects the pistol’s serial number. If the dealer doesn’t know the number, the dealer can still process the form. But he can’t turn over the pistol until he has added the number to the form and sent the form(?) to the police chief|sheriff where the buyer lives.
After the time period specified in this chapter(?), if the police chief|sheriff hasn’t denied the application, the dealer can turn over the pistol to the buyer. The dealer will give the buyer an educational pamphlet about firearms safety and related laws.
The dealer keeps a copy of the form for 6 years. The police chief|sheriff keeps the form as specified by law.
Sections 6: Sales outside Washington; online sales
Washingtonians can buy rifles and shotguns in another state. But:
- They have to follow the 1968 federal Gun Control Act.
- They have to be eligible to have firearms in both Washington and the state where they buy them.
- If any part of the transaction occurs inside Washington, including online sales, the background check and other procedures specified by this law must be done.
Section 7: Buyers from outside Washington
People from other states can buy rifles and shotguns in Washington. But:
- They have to follow the 1968 federal Gun Control Act.
- They have to be eligible to have firearms in both Washington and the state where they live.
- The background check and other procedures specified by this law must be done.
Section 8: Putting this law in effect and enforcing it
The Department of Licensing can make rules to implement this law. If a dealer breaks this law, the Department of Licensing will revoke the dealer’s license, and report the violation to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Section 9: Penalties for background-check violations
Anyone who violates Section 3 (on background check requirements) is guilty of a gross misdemeanor. If the violator has been found guilty before, then every knowing violation that follows (every gun sold) is a Class C Felony. The violator can use an exception to Section 3 as a defense.
Section 10: Sales tax exemption
Unlicensed persons who sell or transfer a firearm between themselves, and who follow Section 3, don’t have to pay sales tax on the firearm.
Section 11: Sales tax collection
A dealer who facilitates a firearm sale or transfer between unlicensed persons doesn’t have to collect sales tax on the firearm.
Section 12: Court review of this law
If a court finds that part of this law is invalid, the rest of the law will stay in effect.