It happens thousands of times a year in Washington state: someone who isn’t allowed to own a gun tries to buy one but is denied after a background check. But even though it’s a crime to lie on a background check form, police rarely if ever investigate these cases.
Now a bipartisan pair of state lawmakers wants to change that. Their proposal would require gun dealers to notify the Washington State Patrol within two days of someone failing a background check after trying to buy a gun.
Democratic state Representative Drew Hansen is the prime sponsor the bill.
“Where’s the follow-up when some criminal tries to buy a firearm illegally? There should be some consequences, there should be an investigation if it was a knowingly illegal attempt to purchase a firearm there should be some prosecution and prison time if appropriate,” Hansen said.
Don Teague is a federally-licensed gun dealer who owns Private Sector Arms in Olympia. He believes authorities should pursue convicted felons who try to buy a gun. But he opposes requiring gun dealers to report prohibited buyers to the police
Teague noted the FBI maintains the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that dealers use to check the background of gun buyers.
“If we can’t get the feds to [act as the reporting party], then the local police should be forced to act,” Teague said in a Facebook message. “Putting more requirements on the dealer … is just more regulation.”
Hansen argued dealers are in the best position to alert the State Patrol because they are the ones who ultimately deny the purchase -- whether it’s for a long gun or pistol. There is also concern among lawmakers about burdening local law enforcement with an unfunded mandate.
Most dealers charge a fee for background checks.
The bill would also require the Washington State Patrol to investigate denied buyers and refer any clear violations to the state attorney general for prosecution. However, that provision would only be triggered if the legislature provided the funding to do those investigations.
Another provision in the bill would require the Washington State Patrol to maintain a database of denied gun buyers and make that information available to police officers in the field who might come into contact with these individuals.
The bill would also allow domestic violence survivors and other victims to be alerted when a person they have a protection order against tries to buy a gun and is denied.
“This is doing something for the victims,” said Republican state Rep. Dave Hayes, the co-sponsor of the legislation and a Snohomish County Sheriff’s sergeant. “What’s really compelling to me is the victim notification.”
The proposal before the legislature, however, would not change how background checks are conducted in Washington.
Currently, federally licensed gun dealers conduct instant background checks for shotgun and rifle sales. Pistol purchases trigger an additional background check by local law enforcement that can take up to 10 days. Once that local check is complete, the police agency tells the gun dealer whether the purchase can proceed.
Last October, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a report titled “Access to Firearms in Washington State” that called Washington’s background check system fragmented and urged improvements to the system.
Oregon has a centralized background check system run by the state police. When a would-be buyer is denied, that information is referred to state or local law enforcement for investigation.
This story was reported in collaboration with KING 5 News.