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Washington State News

Critics of Washington House Law Warn of Public Safety Issues, Firearms Database

TJ Martinell | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – The Washington House has passed a bill that would create a 10-day waiting period for firearm purchases and tasks the state Department of Licensing, or DOL, of collecting data on every firearm transfer.

While supporters view it as a way to prevent mass shootings, critics warn this it actually undermines public safety while creating what amounts to a government database on firearm ownership managed by a state agency with a recent history of cybersecurity issues.

Those opposed to House Bill 1143 point to several recent incidents to make their case, including the deaths of a Redmond couple after a stalker with a no-contact order filed against him shot them both.

Responding to the murders, Conservative Ladies of Washington President Julie Barrett tweeted that the couple’s deathsweres “another reason why defending our [Second Amendment] is so important. With HB 1143, a stalking victim would not be able to purchase a firearm to have for self-defense in the event of a horrific crime like this.”

Concerns about personal safety were also raised by state legislators. Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard, told colleagues on the House floor that she recently had a stalker who pled guilty after trespassing on her father’s property three times.

“For the first time ever in my life I’m thinking about owning a gun to protect myself, because it is my right to bear arms,” she said. “This bill would make it so I would not be able to protect myself. This bill will inherently prevent individuals with disabilities from getting a gun to protect themselves if they have a stalker. This is wrong. It’s not fair, it’s not right.”

Republicans also warned the bill is likely to be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2022 issued a decision overturning a New York state law requiring residents to have a permit to carry their firearms in private or public. In the original version of HB 1143, a person would have had to obtain a permit in order to purchase a firearm, but that section was removed before the final House vote.

At the state level, the courts could also find it in violation of the Washington State Constitution, which states “the right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.”

Under HB 1143, a person would not only have to wait 10 business days before obtaining a firearm they purchased, but they would have to provide proof of completion of a firearms safety training program.

Another provision requires gun stores to keep records of all gun transfer and turn that data over to DOL for retention, a proposal Republican lawmakers sought to remove prior to the March 7 vote. The amendment was among many introduced by Republicans but ultimately rejected. Among their concerns with the database was cybersecurity. Last year DOL was hacked and the data of 650,000 business license holders was compromised.

“To keep a registry which could be hacked or used by some overzealous government agent is inherently discriminatory and inherently infringing,” Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, told colleagues on the House floor. “This is a foundational, constitutional matter. Keeping these registries is a bad idea.”

It’s estimated that DOL would process 251,000 records annually. The data DOL receives would be sent from the Washington State Patrol’s Secure Automated Firearms E-Check (SAFE) System.

The agency will use appropriated funds to hire contract programmers to accomplish this work or to support current staff implementing this legislation within the required timeline. Appropriated funds may also be used to hire agency temporary staff to support permanent staff assigned to this legislative effort. Any change requires a process to ensure changes are correctly applied to the system. This involves project managers that manage the team that completes the update, business analysts that document and review the system changes, architect services that analyze how the update could have an effect on other systems or DOL processes, developers who create the change, and testers and quality assurance teams that ensure the update is working correctly.

Among the other rejected amendments include:

  • An exemption to the 10-day waiting period for those with a concealed pistol license
  • An exemption to the 10-day waiting period for those who pass a background check
  • Permitting the use of “lived experience” in lieu of a firearms safety course
  • Removing legal immunity for any government agency in the event a crime is committed using a firearm obtained due to that agency’s failure.

HB 1143 has been referred to the Senate, whose Law & Justice Committee will consider it.

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