Washington’s controversial I-594 went into effect last week and many gun owners are worried that ambiguous wording in the law could mean trouble ahead.
The law, which passed by an 18-point margin in November, expanded background checks in the state to all gun sales, including those made in private, online, or at gun shows. Yet many critics say that the law only loosely defines what constitutes a transfer, and some gun owners worry that something as simple as handing someone else a gun at the range or while hunting could be illegal. According to The Seattle Times, gun rights activists said they would hold a rally at the state Capitol later this month in which guns will be openly exchanged in order to test the law. A spokesman for the Washington State Patrol already said that no one at the rally will be arrested for exchanging firearms.
“We don’t think that we could prove that that’s a transfer,” Bob Calkins, spokesman for the patrol, told The Seattle Times. “These are law-abiding folks, they have a political statement. We don’t expect a huge problem.”
In fact, many law enforcement officials have expressed their doubts over whether the new law will actually cut down on gun crime. The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action branch listed 22 of the state’s 39 sheriffs as critics of the law, saying that the tighter gun restrictions will strain police resources and possibly be unenforceable.
“While I am sure the initiative was well-intended, it would not solve the problems we in the law enforcement community face,” Pacific County Sheriff Scott Johnson told the NRA.
Critics of the law also worry that I-594 will expand the state’s gun registry and make it illegal to loan firearms to friends or family members.
“This initiative is a violation of the Second Amendment,” said Sheriff Ben Keller of Garfield County. “I come from a gun owning family and it would be a crime every time someone wanted to use my trap gun at a trap shoot. Being in law enforcement for 24 years, this initiative is not going to keep guns off the street. What keeps guns off the street is keeping the felons that are using the guns illegally in jail.”
As for gun shows, organizers say that retailers have always been required to perform background checks before selling any firearm. With the new law taking effect, KREM 2 reported that many gun shows will now offer $10 private party background checks for private sales and transfers.
Will that help keep guns out of the hands of criminals? Mitch Barker, Executive Director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, told KREM 2 that it will be a while before officials see results one way or another.
“No one knows yet,” Barker says. “I don’t think anyone has the answers yet. We’ll just wait and see.”