New gun law means uncertainty come July 1

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MOSES LAKE — As of July 1, it’s going to be a lot tougher to buy most guns legally in the State of Washington.

But the new law, Initiative 1639, is also prompting a great deal of confusion and uncertainty among those tapped to carry out and enforce its provisions.

“As far as gun sales, we’re seeing an uptick now,” said Sandy Keller, manager of Tri-State Outfitters in Moses Lake. “People are wanting to avoid the hassles and the unknowns of 1639.”

In November 2018, 59 percent of Washington voters approved Initiative 1639, which establishes background checks for all pistol and “semi-automatic assault rifle” (SAR) sales, a 10-day waiting period for SAR sales, raises the minimum age to purchase an SAR to 21 from 18 and mandates training for anyone purchasing an SAR.

In addition, I-1639 makes it a crime to fail to store a firearm properly and requires the state Department of Licensing work with state law enforcement agencies across the state to verify that all pistol and SAR owners “remain eligible to possess a firearm under state and federal law.”

The measure also adds a legal definition of a semi-automatic assault rifle to state law as “any rifle which utilizes a portion of the energy of a firing cartridge to extract the fired cartridge case and chamber the next round, and which requires a separate pull of the trigger to fire each cartridge.”

Keller said that with the law due to take effect in less than two weeks, many of the details have yet to be worked out.

“There’s been very little information put out by the state about the exact procedures, so we’re going into this with a little uncertainty,” she said.

Keller said the one thing she knows is that the amount of paperwork her employees will have to do on gun sales — which account for roughly 25 percent of Tri-State’s business in Moses Lake — is going to increase. As will waiting times, especially since the FBI will stop doing background checks on all but shotguns, bolt-action and lever-action rifles.

“There’s no change in that,” she said.

However, Keller said that even with a state concealed pistol license, pistol purchasers will also have to wait as many as 10 days to pick up their purchases as background checks pass from the FBI to the local agency.

“All pistols and SAR paperwork will go to local law enforcement for a second check anyway,” she said.

Because of that, Keller said she expects gun sales to fall for a while after July 1.

According to Quincy Police Chief Kieth Siebert, the new background checks will increase the workload on local police departments, since the FBI will no longer be doing the bulk of background checks in Washington.

“That’s going to create more work, but that’s just part of it, because the FBI no longer does the pre-check on a lot of that, so that’s coming to our agency as well,” Siebert said.

But according to Moses Lake Police Captain Dave Sands, the background checks will also involve other agencies, such as the Department of Social and Health Services, as well as the courts. Currently, the MLPD reviews roughly 50 pistol transfers per month, he said.

“I have no idea (what it will take to enforce 1639); we’ve never had to deal with this,” Sands said.

Siebert also said the lack of a training program in place for SAR purchasers is going to make things interesting come July 1.

“When it comes to the training, I’m hoping the legislature will iron out exactly what that looks like,” he said. “Because I’d like to offer that here, for our citizens.”

Dave Workman, a spokesman for the Second Amendment Foundation, which is currently challenging I-1639 in federal court in Seattle, said there are roughly 1.5 million gun owners in Washington, and 615,000 holders of concealed pistol licenses.

Both Workman and Sands said they are not certain how the state’s Department of Licensing is going to find a cost-effective and efficient process to each year evaluate the eligibility of gun owners to keep their guns.

“I don’t know what they will do, what their process will be,” Sands said.

While Grant County Sheriff Tom Jones is on record saying he will not enforce the provisions of I-1639 “while the constitutional validity remains in argument at the federal courts level,” Tri-State’s Keller and Quincy’s Siebert did not believe they have that luxury.

“There will be lots of paperwork for Federal Firearms License (holders), lots of paperwork for law enforcement agencies. It’s another burden, but we will obey the law,” Keller said.

“It’s a lot to do, but we don’t determine what the law is, whether it’s a good law or a bad law,” Siebert said. “We just enforce it.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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