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Gun Rights, Gun Control Advocates React To Background Check Prosecution

Prosecuting Attorney of Island County
In charging documents, the Island County prosecutor alleged that Mark A. Mercado illegally transferred the gun that was used to murder 17-year-old John Skyler Johnson.

Gun rights and gun control advocates are reacting to the first prosecution under Washington’s Initiative 594, the 2014 law that requires a background check for person-to-person gun sales.

The case involves a former Oak Harbor, Washington, resident named Mark Mercado who allegedly gave or sold a .22-caliber pistol to an acquaintance last November. Prosecutors said that gun was then used a day later in the murder of 17-year-old John Skyler Johnson, known as “Jay.”

“Had it not been so easy maybe they would have re-thinked their planning and staging,” said Johnson’s grandmother Shari Mattson-Cooper speaking with KING 5 News about the ease with which the gun was obtained.

Police traced the gun back to Mercado through text messages.

Renee Hopkins is executive director of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the group that sponsored Initiative 594. She called the first prosecution under this law “significant” but said that’s not the main measure of its effectiveness.

“It’s actually keeping and preventing guns from getting into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said since the law took effect, background checks have stopped more than 100 person-to-person gun sales in Washington.

Dave Workman with the Citizens Committee For the Right to Keep and Bear Arms has a different view of the law’s effectiveness.

“It didn’t prevent the crime from being committed,” Workman said. “It only allows a mechanism under which the Island County Prosecutor can prosecute the guy who sold the gun.”

Workman also questioned whether this case is a true test of the background check law. That’s because the recipient of the gun was not yet 21, so federal law would have prevented the sale even with a background check.

As for Jay Johnson’s grandmother, she said she’s “astounded” that her grandson’s murder has now led to the first prosecution under the two-year-old law.

“Maybe, maybe this is Jay’s way of helping society,” Mattson-Cooper said.

This story was reported in collaboration with KING 5 News

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."