On Nov. 6, voters approved I-594, one of two initiatives on the ballot pertaining to gun safety. The other initiative, I-591, was rejected by voters. Both have the potential to steer Washington’s gun laws in a new direction, expanding safety measures aimed at combating the rampant gun violence our society has been facing in rising numbers.
Currently, all states are held to minimal federal standards when it comes to who can buy and sell guns. These standards are mandated by The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993. This was named after James Brady, who was shot by John Hinckley, Jr. during an attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on Nov. 30, 1993 and went into effect on Feb. 28, 1994.
Hinckley had purchased the gun he used in an attempt to assassinate the president with a false home address, false identification, prior gun related arrest and preexisting psychiatric conditions. When Brady was shot, he suffered head wounds that left him partially paralyzed for life. The incident drew attention to the issue of gun regulation and violence and lead to the formation of the Brady Act.
The Brady Act declared that all purchases of handguns required the buyer to undergo and pass a background check in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database maintained by the FBI. Although instituting background checks was its primary function, it also prohibited individuals that met certain criteria from shipping or transporting firearms.
The law has many loopholes. The background check requirements apply only to federally licensed firearms dealers and make no mention of private sellers, which account for about 40 percent of gun sales according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Because of this, people who don’t technically sell firearms as a full-time occupation are legally permitted to make gun sales without issuing a background check or documenting the transaction in any way. A June 2000 report conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that unlicensed sellers were involved in about one-fifth of the trafficking investigations and associated with nearly 23,000 diverted guns.
States manage gun violence within their borders by passing stricter laws governing the sales and purchases of firearms within the state. This is what the proposed initiatives on this ballot are attempting to do.
Currently in Washington state, gun laws require firearms dealers to obtain state permits and have their employees pass background checks. It also prohibited some individuals guilty of domestic violence charges from purchasing firearms.
Washington, however, doesn’t offer regulation of gun sales between private parties in the form of background checks, limit the number of firearms purchased at one time, require the registration of firearms, impose a waiting period on firearm purchases or regulate unsafe handguns.
I-594 was devised to close the loophole that allows private sellers to bypass background checks, keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals while allowing responsible gun buyers and owners to continue to have access to firearms. It applies the same method that licensed gun dealers use to make sales to private sellers, which reduces the chance of someone dangerous purchasing a gun.
It does acknowledge exceptional situations that don’t warrant the need of a background check, however, such as when guns are gifted between immediate family members, are antiques or relics, are temporarily transferred for self-defense or are being loaned for hunting or sporting activities.
I-591 is the opposite of I-594. The state government would have been prohibited from confiscating weapons from citizens without due process and prohibited from being able to increase safety measures like expanded background checks unless the federal government increases their national background check requirements.
Gun violence is increasing and has given rise to new discussion on how America is to responsibly use firearms while simultaneously keeping our citizens safe. Technology is changing and creating demand for laws surrounding the use of guns to change with it. From the shooting at the University of California at Santa Barbara, to Sandy Hook and to Pacific Lutheran University, gun violence is in our backyards and needs to be addressed.
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