By closing the background check loophole with Initiative 594, Washington State is keeping firearms out of dangerous hands and saving lives from gun violence. Now, we're working to make Washington State even safer.
Initiative 594: A Closed Background Check System Makes A Major Difference
In November 2014, Washington State voters overwhelmingly passed Initiative 594, making theirs the first state to close the background check loophole by a popular vote. Washington’s choice to require background checks on all gun sales closed a gap that legally allowed criminals and other dangerous people to go to “private sellers” at gun shows, on the internet, and elsewhere to buy guns with no background check and no questions asked.
Today, the situation has changed significantly in Washington State. After a little over one year of implementation of Initiative 594:
- Fifty (50) firearm sales to prohibited purchasers have been blocked, which likely would have otherwise been completed. (KUOW)
- Over 10,000 private sale background checks have occurred, which likely would not have been conducted had Initiative 594 not been passed into law (Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services – April 2016).
These figures continues to grow each month.
“Initiative 594…has enhanced security for all by making it more difficult for felons and others banned from gun ownership to acquire firearms.” – The Herald of Everett
Background Checks on All Sales: Popular, Successful, and Growing
Even before the law took effect on December 4th, 2014, the largest gun show operators in Washington State adopted private sale background checks at their establishments. The day after Initiative 594 passed, “hundreds” of private sale background checks were conducted “very smoothly” at the Wes Knodel Gun Show in Tacoma.
According to The Olympian “the checks they carried out on private-party sales were done quickly, averaging ‘less than 15 minutes’ to complete.” That same month, Washington Arms Collectors, which spent hundreds of thousands to oppose 594, announced it would offer private sale background checks for $10 at its shows.
As Washington gun show operators and dealers were easily adopting Initiative 594, gun owners were having a similarly positive experience. A May 2015 poll found Initiative 594 grew in popularity by nine points compared to Election Day, to nearly 70%.
“82% of voters in the state say extended background checks have either had a positive or no impact on their lives . . . Among gun owners, the law had an approval-disapproval rating of 61%-31%.” – Public Policy Polling
In fact, Initiative 594 blocked its first sale to a dangerous person within 48 hours. On December 6th, 2014, an individual with a felony warrant was blocked from purchasing a firearm through a private sale at the Spokane Gun Show. This check would not have occurred had the seller not been complying with the terms of Initiative 594.
Today, Oregon has joined the list of states that closed their background check loophole, bringing the total to 18 states that requires background checks on at least some private sales. And in November 2016, two additional states – Maine and Nevada – will vote on whether to require background checks on all sales.
Background Checks Save Lives
The simple fact is that states with a closed background check system see far lower rates of specific types of gun violence compared to those with a background check loophole. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, those 18 states see:
- 46% fewer women shot to death by intimate partners
- 48% fewer law enforcement officers killed with handguns
- 48% fewer trafficked firearms
The evidence is clear that background checks make a huge difference when it comes to the rate of gun violence in a state. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that, after Missouri repealed its background check law in 2007, the murder rate in Missouri increased by fourteen percent, with 49-68 additional murders per year attributed to the repeal of the law.
Further Strengthening Our Background Check System
Background checks on all sales are firmly integrated into Washington State’s background check law. Now, the attention of both the federal government and state government is focused on continuing to improve the background check system.
- In Washington State, Governor Inslee’s Executive Order 16-02 directs the Office of Financial Management to conduct an unprecedented analysis of the overall background check system, while requesting that the Attorney General’s Office dedicate additional resources to addressing individuals whose background checks are denied.
- President Obama’s recent executive order directed hundreds of thousands of dollars towards new enforcement resources, personnel, and technology for division of the FBI responsible for processing background checks.
“[President Obama’s] Executive Order is a thoughtful, comprehensive, and judicious use of the President’s authority in support of the national consensus that we must address the appalling toll of gun violence.” – Alliance Executive Director Renee Hopkins
Resources and Links
- The Trace, April 1, 2016: “50 Felons Are Blocked from Buying Guns, and the Debate Over Universal Background Checks Flares Up Again”
- Spokesman Review (Shawn Vestal), January 7, 2016: “Gun-show promoter’s changing story part of the ‘everybody knows’ problem”
- Everett Herald (Editorial), June 16, 2015: “Background Checks Save Lives”
- Seattle Times (Thanh Tan), December 14, 2014: “A glimpse into Washington’s gun culture after Initiative 594”