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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."

Washington Sheriffs, Police Chiefs Say Pistol Database Is Valuable Tool


OLYMPIA, Wash. – Efforts to get gun rights leaders in Washington to support -- or at least not oppose -- universal background checks appear to have hit a stumbling block. At issue is a state database that tracks pistol sales. Second Amendment advocates want it shut down, but the state’s sheriffs and police chiefs say it’s a vital law enforcement tool.

Every time a licensed gun dealer in Washington sells a handgun, that information is uploaded into the state’s pistol database. Gun rights leaders view this as a registry of handgun ownership. One leader in that movement recently suggested to lawmakers that if they dismantled the database he might support universal background checks.

But Don Pierce with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs says the database can help reunite a stolen gun with its rightful owner or even solve a crime.

“If you were the suspect in an armed robbery and there was a .38 caliber handgun brandished we could check to see if you at any time had a .38 handgun transferred to you.”

Pierce says his association supports universal background checks for gun sales -- but not if it means giving up the pistol database. The prime sponsor of the background check measure says it’s more important to him to have law enforcement support than win over leaders in the gun rights movement.

On the Web:

HB 1588: Universal background checks - Washington Legislature
Firearms licensing - Washington Department of Licensing

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."