Gun Law Gaps

A 2014 citizen's initiative in Washington state promised to close a gap in gun background check law: private sales. However, our reporting in collaboration with KING5 TV Seattle has revealed more troubling gaps: that existing laws are rarely enforced, and that survivors of domestic violence are not notified when their abusers try to buy guns. Legal reporting from Austin Jenkins and Chris Ingalls explains these gun law gaps and previews legal efforts to close them. Their work won the investigative category for small news outlets, audio, in the Society of Professional Journalists' Northwest Excellence in Journalism contest.

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Typically a survivor of domestic violence would never know if their abuser tried to buy a gun and was denied after a background check. But now a state lawmaker and a domestic violence survivor want to change that.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

What happens when someone who’s not supposed to have a gun lies about their background and tries to buy one? In Washington state, the answer is not much.

FBI records show that between January and August of this year, 3,259 would-be gun buyers in Washington failed a federal background check. But police and prosecutors rarely, if ever, pursue these people.

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A new white paper by the Washington state attorney general’s office finds the state’s system of conducting background checks for gun purchases to be fragmented, complex and inconsistent.

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In what’s believed to be the first prosecution under a 2014 voter-approved background check law, a former Oak Harbor, Washington, resident has been charged with illegally transferring a .22-caliber pistol that was later used in a homicide.

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.