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Initiative 1639 and Your Gun Rights

Posted by William Kirk, Partner | Nov 27, 2018 | 0 Comments

On election day, many lawful and responsible gun owners in Washington state, gasped at what the voters of this state approved.  I-1639, which was opposed by EVERY SINGLE law enforcement agency in this state, passed by a large margin.  And while this legislation will due nothing to eliminate gun violence, it certainly made many legislators and naive citizens feel good about themselves.  The following is a summary of what this new law means to you.

Initiative 1639 imposes a litany of new restrictions on the purchase and ownership of firearms. These restrictions include background checks and waiting periods for purchasing semiautomatic assault rifles.  This new legislation provides a new statutory definition of “assault rifle.”  The initiative also increases the minimum age to buy semiautomatic assault rifles to 21.  The measure also establishes requirements for storage of all firearms. Section 13 of the measure, which would establish age requirements is designed to take effect on January 1, 2019. The rest of the measure's provisions will take effect on July 1, 2019.

How 1639 Defines and "Assault Rifle"

According to the I-1639, semiautomatic assault rifle will be  defined as:

ANY RIFLE WHICH UTILIZES A PORTION OF THE ENERGY OF A FIRING CARTRIDGE TO EXTRACT THE FIRED CARTRIDGE CASE AND CHAMBER THE NEXT ROUND, AND WHICH REQUIRES A SEPARATE PULL OF THE TRIGGER TO FIRE EACH CARTRIDGE. "SEMIAUTOMATIC ASSAULT RIFLE" DOES NOT INCLUDE ANTIQUE FIREARMS, ANY FIREARM THAT HAS BEEN MADE PERMANENTLY INOPERABLE, OR ANY FIREARM THAT IS MANUALLY OPERATED BY BOLT, PUMP, LEVER, OR SLIDE ACTION.

 

New Purchase Requirements for Assault Rifles

The most comprehensive changes in this legislation deal with how one can legally purchase assault rifles.  Once enacted, purchasing an assault rifle will be every bit as difficult, if not more difficult, than purchasing a handgun.  Under the measure, no dealer can deliver a semiautomatic assault rifle to a purchaser until:

FIRST:  The purchaser provides proof that they have completed a recognized firearm safety training program in the last five years including instruction on basic firearm safety, secure gun storage, the safety of children and firearms, suicide prevention, safe handling, and state and federal firearm law; and

SECOND:  The dealer is notified in writing by the chief of police or sheriff in the jurisdiction of the purchaser's residence that the purchaser is eligible to own a firearm and that the application to purchase is approved. Under the measure, the chief of police or sheriff must use the national instant criminal background check system established under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and other databases and information centers to determine whether a person is eligible to possess a firearm.

Initiative 1639 expands the background checks typically reserved only for handguns to the purchase of semiautomatic rifles as well.  Consequently, a dealer cannot deliver a pistol OR semiautomatic rifle to anyone where:

  • The applicant has an outstanding warrant for their arrest from any court for a felony or misdemeanor, a dealer must hold the delivery of pistols and semiautomatic assault rifles until the warrant is served and satisfied by a court appearance.
  • A police chief or sheriff has reasonable grounds based on open criminal charges, pending criminal proceedings, or outstanding warrants, and if the records have not been reported or entered sufficiently to determine whether or not the person is eligible to purchase a firearm, the local jurisdiction or state may hold the sale and delivery of a firearm for up to thirty (30) days to verify records.

An applicant for the purchase of a firearm must sign and deliver an application to the dealer which includes the applicant's name, address, date of birth, race, gender, driver's license number or state ID number, a description of the firearm and the manufacturer's number.

New Firearm Training Required

New classes will now have to be developed by gun ranges and clubs statewide.  The reason is that Initiative 1639 will now require that any purchaser of a semiautomatic rifle complete a "Recognized Safety Training Program."  What that means is anyone's guess at the current time.  However, this newly passed law requires that the class curriculum include:

1.  Basic firearm safety

2.  Children and firearms, including safe storage and talking to kids about gun safety

3.  Firearms and suicide prevention

4.  Secured storage and how to prevent unauthorized access and use

5.  Safe handling of firearms, and;

6.  State and federal firearm laws including prohibited firearms transfers.

A New Warning to Firearms Purchasers:

Much like the many obvious warning labels that we see everywhere (check under your lawn mower) 1639 will now require all firearms dealers to post the following sign:

CAUTION: THE PRESENCE OF A FIREARM IN THE HOME HAS BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH AN INCREASED RISK OF DEATH TO SELF AND OTHERS, INCLUDING AN INCREASED RISK OF SUICIDE, DEATH DURING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE INCIDENTS, AND UNINTENTIONAL DEATHS TO CHILDREN AND OTHERS.

A New Loss of Privacy Rights:

Under Washington law, a signed application to purchase a pistol constitutes a waiver of confidentiality so that any court or law enforcement agency may request a mental health institution or other health care facility to release information relevant to a person's eligibility to purchase a pistol.  I-1639 now expands this provision to include the applications for and purchase of semiautomatic assault rifles.

A New Fee to Pay the State:

Under the measure, the department of licensing could require the dealer to charge each purchaser or transferee a fee of not more than $25.00 to fund the state, mental health institutions, and local law enforcement for the cost of meeting their obligations under the measure.

New Waiting Periods:

I-1639 forbids firearms dealers from delivering a semiautomatic assault rifle to a purchaser until ten business days have passed from the date of the application for purchase.

New Firearm Storage Requirements:

One area of considerable concern over 1639 was the new storage requirements and the potential liability that comes with it.  In what will surely be the subject of several legal challenges otherwise lawful firearms owners can be charged with a crime for the act of others.

Under I-1639, a person who leaves a firearm in a place where a prohibited person (someone who is prohibited from firearm possession under state or federal law) could potentially gain access to the firearm will be guilty of community endangerment, a class C felony, if a prohibited person gained access to the firearm. This new law also mandates that when selling a firearm, every dealer will be required to offer to sell or give the purchaser a gun storage device such as a trigger lock designed to stop unauthorized use of the firearm.  Additionally, every place where firearms are sold will be required to display the following sign, in block letters (capitalized) and at least one inch in height:

WARNING: YOU MAY FACE CRIMINAL PROSECUTION IF YOU STORE OR LEAVE AN UNSECURED FIREARM WHERE A PERSON WHO IS PROHIBITED FROM POSSESSING FIREARMS CAN AND DOES OBTAIN POSSESSION.

Under the measure, violators would be guilty of a class 1 civil infraction and could have been fined up to $250.

New Age Requirements:

Another significant change in law is the new purchasing age for semi-automatic assault rifles.  With the passage of I-1639, a person under 21 years of age will no longer be able to purchase a pistol OR semiautomatic assault rifle.  Persons between the ages of 18-21 will only be able to possess a pistol or semiautomatic assault rifle under the following conditions:

  • in the person's residence,
  • in the person's fixed place of business,
  • on real property under the person's control,
  • or for the specific purpose of moving to a new place of residence, traveling to and from the allowed locations, and selling or transferring the firearm in accordance with other provisions.

When This Matters to You:

The roll out of this law, how it is actually applied AND how it is actually enforced remains to be seen.  Considering law enforcement's strong and unanimous opposition to 1639, how they choose to enforce the storage laws remains to be seen.  For those that are interested in purchasing a semiautomatic rifle, the expanded background checks, mandatory waiting period and mandatory education are not effective until July 1, 2019.  The age provision, raising the age of purchase from 18 to 21 for semiautomatic rifles, will be effective January 1, 2019.  

Several legal challenges to this legislation have already been filed.  Check back here regularly to keep apprised of your gun rights.  

About the Author

William Kirk, Partner

Bill Kirk has been named a Super Lawyer by Washington Law and Politics Magazine every year since 2003. He currently serves on the Board of Regents to the National College for DUI Defense and is the President of the Washington Foundation for Criminal Justice. Bill is one of only two attorneys in this state to pass the National College's Board Certification Exam.

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