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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."

FBI Data: 50 Private Gun Sales Blocked Since Background Check Law Passed

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network

Fifty private gun sales have been blocked since Washington voters approved a background check law in 2014. That’s according to FBI data released in response to a public records request by public radio and KING-TV in Seattle.

This is the first hard data on the impact of Initiative 594. That’s the law that requires background checks for person-to-person gun sales in Washington. In the first 14 months the law was in effect, 50 private sales were denied after a National Instant Criminal Background Check was run on the potential buyer.

For context, that’s a rejection rate of less than 1 percent based on FBI reports that there were more than 6,000 private firearms sales in Washington state during the same time period. What’s not known is how many private sales were conducted without a background check in violation of the law.

Joanna Paul, with the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, said the FBI numbers show the law is working.

“We know that private sale background checks are being performed and now we know that is actually preventing sales to prohibited people,” Paul said.

Last January, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility claimed in a press release that the new law had blocked 100 ineligible gun sales in its first year. That figure was based on data showing how many guns had been returned to sellers after a private sale didn’t go through. Paul stands by that analysis and said there’s a difference between a blocked, ineligible sale and a private sale denial.

Gun rights advocates disagree the law is working. The Second Amendment Foundation’s Dave Workman said just because someone was blocked from purchasing a gun doesn’t mean they didn’t later obtain a firearm some other way.

“To take a figure like this and declare some kind of moral victory may be delusional,” Workman said in a telephone interview from his office in Bellevue. He also noted that there have been no prosecutions to date under I-594.

The Alliance for Gun Responsibility said it’s working with Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson to increase the effectiveness of the background check law. In January, Inslee signed an executive order directing the attorney general to “analyze current enforcement practices” against illegal attempts to purchase firearms.

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."