Sunday, the Seattle Times reported that new, stronger gun background checks will become effective for Washington State on Thursday (12/4/2014). These new Washington gun background check rules (Ref. 591) passed with 59% of the popular vote on November 4th and will require “background checks on all sales and transfers, including private transactions and many loans and gifts”, with exceptions for gifting within a family and for antique weapons (made before 1898).
“With the new law, Washington will join six other states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Rhode Island — plus Washington, D.C., that require universal background checks for all sales and transfers of all firearms, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.” (ST)
Under the new Washington gun background check rules, if a gun owner wanted to sell a gun to a friend, the two would be required to meet at a licensed gun dealer who would perform the check. If the friends didn’t live close to one another, the seller would ship the gun to a licensed dealer in the buyer’s city, and that dealer would perform the requisite background check.
Many opponents of the new Washington gun background check rules are concerned that increases in the volume of background checks reviewed by law enforcement in Washington will be too costly and time consuming. While the actual number of new gun background checks that will require review is hard to predict – “the size of the private market is unknown” – we can try to estimate the impending burden by looking at data from other states that recently passed similar background check laws. (Quote from Seattle Times)
For reference, the FBI performed over 560,000 gun background checks for Washington State in 2013. In Colorado, about 2% more background checks were performed the year after laws similar to the new Washington gun background check rules were enacted. For Washington, the estimated number of new gun background checks stands at about 13,000 through July 2015, 35,000 for the first two years the law is in place, and about 50,000 for the following two years.
While current Washington law subjects gun buyers to background checks that “[screen] the buyer to make sure they aren’t a felon, a fugitive, or in the country illegally … [private] sales and transfers don’t currently require a background check under state or federal law.” (Ibid.) These new Washington gun background check rules broaden the scope of gun ownership transfers that require such a check.
Whether these laws will reduce the risk for gun violence in Washington is yet to be seen. The rules do not close all available loopholes, potential criminals may scoff at the new law, and too often gun crimes are committed by people who can pass a background check. That being said, the voters have spoken, and cost-benefit for these new Washington gun background check rules supports their passage. So far, it looks like a step in the right direction.