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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Victims Plead For Investigation, Notification Of Attempted Gun Purchases

Domestic abusers, felons and fugitives are prohibited from owning guns. But what happens if they try to buy a gun? In Oregon, the State Police investigate or alert local police. In Washington state no one follows up.

But that could soon change.

Two survivors of domestic violence testified Tuesday in support of a bipartisan proposal to crack down on prohibited gun buyers. It would require gun dealers to notify the Washington State Patrol when someone fails a background check for a gun purchase. The Patrol would then be required to create a database and investigate these cases and where appropriate refer them for prosecution.

In addition, victims could sign up for a notification when someone they have a court order against is blocked from making a gun purchase. Police officers would also get notification on their in-car computers.

‘I am so afraid'

On the evening of January 15, 2010 Courtney Weaver was in her bathroom getting ready to go out with friends. Suddenly her boyfriend appeared behind her armed with a .45 caliber handgun. He shot her in what she calls a “botched murder-suicide.”

“The .45 bullet went through my right arm, through my upper right lip, shattered five teeth, lacerated my tongue and shattered my entire jaw,” Weaver said.

Weaver told her story standing in the hallway outside a legislative committee hearing room in Olympia where she had just testified.

“A third of my face is titanium,” Weaver said. “I’ve had 14 reconstructive surgeries since that night.”

And since that night, Weaver has moved from California to Seattle. She lives in fear of the day in 2019 when her attacker gets out of prison. She told lawmakers that in the event he ever tries to buy a gun and fails a background check, she would want to have that information.

“So I can protect my loved ones and my family and coordinate with local law enforcement,” Weaver said.

Weaver wasn’t the only one to tell her story in front of the House Judiciary Committee. So did Paula Marr who we first met in December

Marr told lawmakers of getting a call from KING 5 reporter Chris Ingalls. He informed her that her former longtime boyfriend who she has a permanent protection order against had shown up on a list of people who had tried to buy a gun in Pierce County but failed a background check.

“And thank God it was kicked back,” Marr said.

But Marr said a blocked sale is not enough.

“Who’s going to follow up on it? Who’s going to look out for my protection and my children? I have hidden for years, changed addresses, go through a PO Box because I am so afraid,” Marr said.

‘They’re worth our time and attention’

The prime sponsor of the measure is Democrat Drew Hansen who also testified before the committee.

“If you’re a criminal and you walk into a firearms store, you knowingly violate the law by illegally trying to purchase a firearm, you should be arrested, you should be prosecuted and in an appropriate case you should spend some time in prison,” Hansen said.

Hansen’s co-sponsor is Republican state Rep. Dave Hayes who’s also a sheriff’s sergeant.

Gun rights advocates aren’t necessarily opposed, but they are wary. Tom Kwieciak is a lobbyist representing the National Rifle Association. He told lawmakers that sometimes the federal instant background check gets it wrong.

“Mistaken identity basically, so we just want to make sure if somebody’s in a database like this that we are absolutely sure that they are the right people,” Kwieciak said.

So far the proposed law to go after prohibited buyers has earned support from frontline police officers, a county Sheriff and prosecutors.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg doesn’t want to wait for the law to change. He recently told KING 5 he wants police in his county to start forwarding him these cases now.

“If they were a felon in possession of a firearm we’d come down on them like a ton of bricks, so they are just one step away from being a felon in possession of a firearm,” Satterberg said. “They’re worth our time and attention.”

King County Sheriff John Urquhart though has said he doesn’t have the resources to follow up on these cases, nor is he convinced they are worth the effort -- especially given the black market for guns. But, according to Urquhart's chief of staff, he does support the legislation pending in Olympia to have the State Patrol conduct the follow up investigation. 

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."