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Crime, Law and Justice
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."

Tearful Testimony As Senators Consider Crackdown On Prohibited Gun Buyers

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Austin Jenkins
/
Northwest News Network
Paula Harwood testifies in favor of a bill to require notification to police and victims when a felon, fugitive or other prohibited gun buyer tries to buy a gun and fails a background check.

Police, prosecutors and victims say it’s time for the state of Washington to crack down on prohibited gun buyers. Lawmakers heard testimony Thursday on a proposal to require gun dealers to alert authorities when someone tries to buy a gun and fails a background check.

Paula Harwood fought back tears as she told her story to the Senate Law and Justice Committee

“I was in an abusive relationship with a gun put to my head in front of my children,” she said.

That was decades ago. But recently, Harwood found out from a reporter that the man she has a permanent restraining order against tried to buy a gun and was denied.

“It was like somebody punched me in the stomach,” Harwood said. “I lost my breath and the only thing I could think about was oh my God, oh my God he tried.”

It’s a crime for prohibited buyers to lie and try to buy a gun. But there’s rarely if ever any follow up on these cases in Washington.

James McMahan is the policy director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. He said when this issue was first brought to his attention he thought, “there is no problem, these folks didn’t get a gun, move onto something else.”

But when he saw the statistics: 40 percent are convicted felons, 10 percent are fugitives and 5 percent have protection orders against them.

“I became concerned and thought, ‘I think there really is something here for us to address.’”

The bill under consideration would create a system where police and victims are notified of attempts to purchase a gun by prohibited buyers. The bipartisan measure has already passed the Washington House.

This story was reported in collaboration with KING 5 News