The Lynden Pioneer Museum posted the following on Facebook a week ago:
The new voter-approved law, Initiative 594, requires background checks on all gun transfers. The museum is wary that they could face a legal problem if they try to send loaned guns back to their owners after the law takes effect Dec. 4.
Even though the risk is small, the museum’s director says any legal costs would be a significant burden given his small budget and that they can’t afford to pay for the background checks.
“I read through the law about 10 different times looking for a loophole,” museum director Troy Luginbill told the newspaper.
The law passed this month with 59 percent of the vote. It requires background checks on all sales and transfers, including private transactions and many loans and gifts, with exceptions for transfers between family members and antiques.
The law is not retroactive, meaning Lynden’s museum, which has one full time employee, would not immediately have to have any background checks performed.
However, the museum said it was concerned about the financial burden of having to perform background checks before it could return the weapons to their owners after the exhibit ends next May.
The law exempts antiques, but the museum’s rifles are too new to qualify. The definition includes only weapons produced before 1898.
Supporters of the law, which passed in November with 59 percent of the vote, said the museum had nothing to worry about.
Geoff Potter, a spokesman for the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which led the I-594 campaign, said the measure was designed to prevent criminals from buying weapons without background checks at gun shows – not to saddle museums and donors to historical exhibits.
“This is clearly not what was concerned when I-594 was designed,” Potter said. “You can’t craft every possibility into every law. We think they can go forward with the exhibit, and we hope they will.”
Nevertheless, other museums said the law would give them pause as well. Several in the state have military exhibits, though it wasn’t clear how many might have modern guns on loan.
Seattle police officer James Ritter, who founded the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum, said he doubted that returning a gun to its rightful owner would be considered a “transfer” under the law. Regardless, he said it was exceptionally unlikely that investigators would target museum exhibits for prosecution.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Luginbill didn’t disagree. But even a tiny risk was too much, given the heavy toll legal problems could have on a nonprofit with an annual budget of $132,000, he said
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