The Law As It Presently Exists
Both state and federal laws require that certain sellers of firearms conduct background checks of buyers before selling firearms to determine whether the buyer can legally possess a firearm. Washington law makes it illegal for convicted felons to possess firearms. It also makes it illegal for certain others to possess firearms, including people who: (1) have been convicted of certain misdemeanors; (2) have been issued certain types of restraining orders; (3) have been found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity; (4) have been found mentally incompetent; or (5) have certain criminal charges pending. It is a felony to deliver any firearm to any person reasonably believed to be prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm.
State laws governing background checks vary from state to state. In Washington, a background check is only required to buy a pistol, and only if the seller is a firearms dealer. Washington law also provides an exception to the background check requirement for certain sales of pistols from dealers. If the buyer has already been issued a concealed pistol license, then no further background check is required. Also, a firearms dealer can complete a sale if the sheriff or police chief fails to provide the results of a background check within five business days. That five day period can be extended if the buyer does not have a valid permanent Washington drivers license or identification card, or has lived in Washington for less than ninety days.
Washington law allows Washington residents to buy rifles and shotguns in other states. And it allows residents of other states to buy rifles and shotguns in Washington. In both cases, the sale must comply with federal law. The sale must also be legal under the laws of both Washington and the other state.
Federal law also requires background checks on potential buyers of firearms. This federal requirement applies only when the seller is a firearms dealer. Unlike Washington law, the federal requirement applies to all types of firearms, not just pistols. Federal law does not require a background check if the buyer holds a concealed pistol license. Also, federal law allows a firearms dealer to complete a sale if the results of a background check are not returned within three business days.
Washingtons sales tax and use tax generally apply to sales of firearms. Sales tax does not apply to casual and isolated sales by sellers who are not engaged in business. This means, for example, that a sale of a firearm by a private individual who is not engaged in business is not subject to sales tax. Sales by firearms dealers or other businesses are subject to tax.
The Effect Of The Proposed Measure If Approved
This measure would apply the background check requirements currently used for firearm sales by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers where at least one party is in Washington. Background checks would thus be required not only for sales and transfers of firearms through firearms dealers, but also at gun shows, online, and between unlicensed private individuals. Background checks would be required for any sale or transfer of a firearm, whether for money or as a gift or loan, with specific exceptions described below. Background checks would be required whether the firearm involved is a pistol or another type of firearm. Violations of these requirements would be crimes.
The measure would establish a number of exceptions to the background check requirement. A background check would not be required to transfer a firearm by gift between family members. The background check requirement also would not apply to the sale or transfer of antique firearms. It also would not apply to certain temporary transfers of a firearm when needed to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. Background checks would not be required for certain public agencies or officers acting in their official capacity, including law enforcement or corrections agencies or officers, members of the military, and federal officials. Federally licensed gunsmiths who receive firearms solely to service or repair them would not be required to undergo background checks.
Certain other temporary transfers of a firearm would also not require a background check. These include temporary transfers between spouses, and temporary transfers for use at a shooting range, in a competition, or for performances. A temporary transfer to a person under age eighteen for hunting, sporting, or education would not require a background check. Other temporary transfers for lawful hunting also would not require a background check.
A person who inherited a firearm other than a pistol upon the death of its former owner would not be required to undergo a background check. A person who inherited a pistol would either have to lawfully transfer the pistol within 60 days or inform the department of licensing that he or she intended to keep the pistol.
Firearms could only be sold or transferred through licensed firearms dealers. If neither party to the sale or transfer of a firearm was a firearms dealer, then a firearms dealer would have to assist in the sale or transfer. Before a sale or transfer could be completed, a firearms dealer would perform the background check on the buyer or recipient of the firearm. If the background check determined that the buyer or recipient of the firearm was ineligible to possess a firearm, the firearms dealer would return the firearm to the seller or transferor. The firearms dealer could charge a fee for these services.
Firearms dealers could not deliver any firearm to a buyer or recipient until receiving background check results showing that the buyer or recipient can legally possess the firearm. But a firearms dealer could deliver a firearm if background check results were not received within ten business days (as opposed to the five business days currently allowed to conduct the check). If the buyer or recipient did not have a valid permanent Washington drivers license or identification card, or had been a Washington resident for less than 90 days, then the time period for delivery of a pistol would be extended from ten days to 60 days, the same as under current law.
If a firearms dealer violates this measure, his or her license could be revoked. The violation would also be reported to federal authorities.
Sales tax would not apply to the sale or transfer of firearms between people who are not licensed firearms dealers, so long as they comply with all background check requirements. Using a licensed firearms dealer to assist with such sales or transfers would not result in sales or use tax.
This measure would apply currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions.
Should this measure be enacted into law?