Barely more than a year ago, shocked Washingtonians grieved the horrific deaths by a gunman on a June morning at Café Racer in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood. Sadly not Puget Sound’s first mass shooting tragedy — the Jewish Federation attack — is still a vivid reminder of guns in in the wrong hands. Following the savage shooting that killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in December, polls show the overwhelming majority of citizens in our state want reasonable public safety protection with universal background checks required for all gun sales.
Recently filed Criminal Background Checks Initiative 594 does just that. It is straightforward and simple making sure everyone in Washington state passes the same background check in firearms sales and transfers, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter whom they buy it from. Signatures are now being gathered statewide so this petition goes to the state Legislature for a vote in January to make this Washington law.
Criminal and public safety background checks dramatically reduce access to guns for criminals, domestic abusers and other dangerous people from buying firearms. Federal law only requires background checks for gun sales at licensed dealers. In the U.S., an estimated 40 percent of gun transfers take place without going through a licensed dealer, including online and at gun shows. In 2012, 6.6 million guns were sold with no background check for the buyer.
Criminals and other prohibited gun buyers exploit this loophole. A national survey of inmates found that nearly 80 percent of those who used a handgun in a crime acquired it in a private transfer. It should be no surprise that the death toll now adds up to 30,000 gun deaths a year in the U.S., a figure public health experts consider an epidemic and much loss of life that can be prevented.
Initiative 594 closes the loophole in Washington state by requiring that private sales and transfers — including those at gun shows or on the internet —go through the same background check process as sales through a licensed gun dealer. The checks, which are meant to prevent felons and dangerously mentally disabled people from obtaining weapons, are currently required for sales from licensed gun dealers, but not for transactions between private citizens, including at gun shows.
Mandatory checks for all transfers will improve public safety and apply effective check standards that many law-abiding gun owners have had in their purchases at licensed dealers. Initiative 594 would apply current criminal and public safety background check requirements by licensed dealers to all sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions (transfers within families, temporary transfers for self-defense and hunting, and antiques).
Licensed dealers could charge a fee to do the background check, but private parties complying with the background check requirement will be exempt from sales tax.
By also making violation of these requirements a crime, passage of I-594 will put Washington a step closer to Oregon and California that have long had extensive, comprehensive gun purchase laws, which balance rights of gun owners with the public safety needs.