Initiative 594 has been in place since Dec. 4, but those who have to deal with the law requiring background checks for all firearm sales and transfers still aren’t sure what to do.
No one is even certain who is enforcing the implementation of I-594, said TRAC General Manager Troy Woody, whose Pasco venue plays host to gun shows.
“From what I read, there’s more confusion than answers,” he said.
I-594, which passed statewide with 59 percent of the vote despite failing in Benton and Franklin counties, requires universal background checks, including on gun sales made online and at gun shows. It also requires checks on transfers, including many loans and gifts, with some exceptions.
Brian Kjensmo, whose Montana company puts on gun shows in the Tri-Cities, Walla Walla and Yakima, has gone to numerous state agencies to try to find answers, he said. He finally determined it will be up to the state Legislature to pass laws providing guidance and funding for enforcement.
The state patrol cannot afford to enforce the law with its current funding, the state Department of Licensing lacks the manpower to enforce it, and the Attorney General’s Office cannot enforce the law without another law from the Legislature, he said.
“Nobody at the state level really has any clue as to who is going to be ultimately responsible,” Kjensmo said.
Communications directors in the state House and Senate had not heard this week of any bills being filed that would deal with I-594, though one could still be filed leading up to the 2015 legislative session, which starts Jan. 12.
“I haven’t heard any rumors of anything floating out there,” said Jim Richards, spokesman for the House Democrats.
Law enforcement officials are also waiting to see what to do, said Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger.
“We’re still seeking information from the courts, the Attorney General’s office, all the groups out there to tell us what to do,” he said.
Metzger is not surprised by how quickly the law, which went into effect a month after it was voted on and just over a week after the election was certified, is being implemented.
“That’s pretty much the way things work around here. It’s always a scramble,” he said. “We’ll get our opinion and abide by what the law tells us what to do.”
Police are using the same process on background checks as they have in the past, said Kennewick Cmdr. Trevor White.
“Nothing changes for law enforcement except for the number of background checks we do,” he said. “I would imagine the sheer volume of transfers will increase.”
Kjensmo’s first Washington gun shows since I-594 went into effect are planned Jan. 10-11 at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds and Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at TRAC. Federally licensed firearms dealers will be on hand to conduct background checks, as they have been in the past.
The law will affect transactions between individuals more than it will sales from licensed dealers, Kjensmo said. Confusion over which transactions are legal under I-594 and which aren’t was the subject of a lawsuit filed earlier this week by I-594 opponents.
“For the most part, there won’t be a terrific amount of change at the gun shows,” he said. “We’re still going to have the same groups of people, but, right now, everybody’s trying to figure out what to do to comply with it.”
The law is already showing results, said Geoff Potter, spokesman for the pro-I-594 Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility. He points to a background check at a Dec. 6 Spokane gun show that revealed a wanted man trying to buy a gun.