Washington State Agencies Punt On New Gun Law

As the state of Washington implements Initiative 594, it seems as though several agencies want nothing to do with the new law. Passed via ballot initiative on the November 4th election, I 594 requires background checks on all firearm “transfers”, including private sales. Reading through 18 pages of vague legal-ese, it looks like it’s nearly impossible to enforce.

Washington state Attorney General, Bob Ferguson

Washington state Attorney General, Bob Ferguson

The state Attorney General has punted to local law enforcement, releasing an official statement that reads in part:

“…Therefore, at this point we have no interpretations of the initiative to offer to the public beyond the text of the measure itself. Local law enforcement and local prosecutors typically enforce and prosecute firearms laws.”

Meanwhile, the Department Of Licensing issued a statement of their own:

“Please contact your local law enforcement agency if you have questions about firearms licensure requirements, clarification of definitions, violations of the law or need additional information regarding exemptions…. Again, the Firearms Program staff cannot provide legal advice or help the public or licensed firearm dealers interpret the firearms statutes found in RCW 9.41 or I-594

Kate Beck, head of the Washington chapter of Moms Demand Action, which vigorously promoted I 594.

Kate Beck, head of the Washington chapter of Moms Demand Action, which vigorously promoted I 594.

You may notice a couple of concerning lines in that statement, such as “This program’s role in the implementation of Initiative 594 is limited to record keeping requirements.” If a background check is all this is, then why does a state agency keep records? The I 594 supporters continually said all along that this is not a registration scheme, so what are these records that are kept? Towards of the end of the statement, we also see “To report possession or ownership of a pistol acquired upon the death of the prior owner after December 4, 2014, contact the Firearms Program at 360.664.6616 or email at [email protected]” Since transfers to immediate family members are exempt from having to go through the background check process, why does there need to be any reporting of inheritance of a firearm?

The Washington State Police want nothing to do with enforcement of the state law, either, as they didn’t arrest anyone who participated in the “I Will Not Comply” rally that took place on December 13th, where 1,000-2,000 stood outside of the capitol building in Olympia, transferring and selling guns back and forth in an open defiance of I 594.

The Vancouver police department has a vague statement on their webpage that punts the ball back to the Department of Licensing, while Seattle PD has remained silent.

"I Will Not Comply" rally goers. Credit: Pacific Northwest Visions

“I Will Not Comply” rally goers. Credit: Pacific Northwest Visions

To demonstrate how easy it is for someone to break this new law, on the moment it went into effect, activists made a video of a firearms sale taking place on the street in downtown Vancouver, with nary a law enforcement officer in sight to do anything about it.

Lewis County prosecutor and sheriff have released statements saying they will not enforce it.

So the question now becomes “If no one wants to enforce a law, is it still a law?”

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