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.
In Washington, rifle purchases are fairly straightforward. A licensed gun dealer conducts an instant background check and if approved the sale can go through. But pistol purchases are different. That system relies on 260 local law enforcement agencies and can involve several databases with no guarantee those databases are up-to-date.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, calls the gaps systemic.
“No system is perfect, whether it’s background checks or anything else, but the consequences for gaps in this particular system can obviously be profound,” he said.
Ferguson’s report, titled “Access to Firearms in Washington State”, makes a series of recommendations. They include creating an Oregon-style centralized state background check system for firearms purchases.
The report also calls for ensuring that people required by a court to surrender their guns actually do so. In addition, it raises a concern about a lack of police follow up when someone who’s prohibited from owning a gun tries to purchase one and is denied -- something that happened 2,900 times in 2013, according to the report.
The report was prepared in response to an executive order issued by Gov. Jay Inslee in January. That order calls for a statewide public health initiative to reduce gun violence and prevent suicides.
In a letter to Inslee, Ferguson wrote, “These are politically challenging issues to tackle. I am convinced, however, that we have an obligation to proactively address gun violence in our state.”
Additional recommendations in the report include:
- Take steps to ensure that when a court enters a guardianship order prohibiting an individual ward from possessing firearms, the order is entered in to the federal background check system.
- Clarify and improve the process for restoring firearm rights to persons with a mental health prohibition.
- Adopt a criminal penalty for firearms owners who fail to secure a firearm, if the owners have reason to know the firearm could be accessed by a minor, and the firearm causes injury or death or otherwise endangers public safety.
This story was reported in collaboration with KING 5 News.