More than one week after election night, area residents have made it known they want to know the next steps for Initiative 594.
Citizens’ call volume on election week prompted the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office to send out a press release on Nov. 6 asking citizens not to call about the initiative that requires stricter background checks for firearm sales and transfers.
“Until I-594 becomes law and can be legally reviewed there are no answers to the questions being posed to the Sheriff’s Office,” Undersheriff Ron Peregrin said. “Phone calls to the Sheriff’s Office regarding I-594 now only serve to impede others with emergent issues from contacting us.”
Chief Criminal Deputy Ron Cameron said phone calls ranged from questions about certain scenarios about guns being in cars to cleaning a spouse’s pistol.
He said he’s unsure what the roles are being readied for local agencies.
“We have to be patient and wait,” he said.
The initiative is set to become law 30 days from the election on Dec. 4 but likely not go into effect right away, law officials said.
Sequim Police Chief Bill Dickinson said he’s unsure what mechanism private sellers will use to buy and sell firearms.
“I’m not sure how the state will implement that,” he said. “I imagine they’ll figure out a way to do it similarly to a gun dealer. At this point all we know is the initiative passed, has to be turned into a piece of law and turned into an RCW.”
Licensed gun shop owners/operators in Sequim and Clallam County already perform background checks through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Potential handgun owners must go through this process as well as through checks with the Sequim Police Department or Sheriff’s Office, depending on where one lives, through the Washington State Patrol’s database, the juvenile records database and a mental illness database.
Some of those applicants are automatically disqualified from gun ownership, including felons, some misdemeanor offenders (such as domestic violence offenders) and people committed to mental institutions involuntarily.
However, with three licensed gun brick-and-mortar dealers in the Sequim area, the initiative aims to pursue more specifically gun transfers at gun shows and in private transfers.
“Businesses that sell guns are already being regulated — nothing is changing there,” Dickinson said. “Presumably this is going to impact private sales and gun shows and imposes a duty on the seller.”
A gun show hasn’t been permitted within Sequim city limits in at least 10 years, city officials said.
Sequim Prairie Grange, located in Clallam County, has hosted gun shows before, but an official count and last rental date was not available.
Under Initiative 594, if a firearms dealer is not licensed in a private or gun show sale then a licensed business person must help with the transfer or sale. A firearms dealer could charge a fee for these services to conduct the background check on the buyer and/or recipient.
Some exceptions that do not require a transfer and background check includes firearm transfers between spouses, at shooting ranges or competitions, a youth under the age 18 for hunting, sporting or education, and other temporary transfers for lawful hunting.
Cameron said the Sheriff’s Office handles a significant number of transfers.
“We were overwhelmed by that before the initiative passed,” Cameron said.
He said leaders within the Sheriff’s Office are working this week to figure out how to handle the anticipated workload.
“(Due to budget constraints) there’s not a lot of ability to hire someone else to do it,” Cameron said.
Local law enforcement leaders plan to attend an upcoming conference of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, Cameron said, and he hopes there will be presentations on the law for all agencies.
“When we know the impact with any specific instructions, we’ll post it online and get the word out as best we can,” Cameron said.
As of Nov. 10, I-594 is passing statewide by 1,171,879 votes, 59.1 percent, to 810,346 votes, 40.9 percent.
Clallam County’s margin is narrowly favoring it with 14,805 votes, 52 percent, to 13,689 votes, 48 percent.
In Sequim School District boundaries, 24 of 32 precincts in Clallam County voted for the initiative nearly equally. Agnew precinct favors it narrowly by two votes (219-217) while Prairie South precinct opposes it by six votes (254-260) and Carlsborg precinct rejects it by six votes (196-202).
While I-591, an initiative that would have prohibited government agencies from requiring background checks unless there is a national standard, is failing statewide 44 percent-55 percent, Clallam voters favored the initiative though with 52.4 percent (14,779 votes) yes ballots to 47.6 percent (13,444 votes) no votes. Seventeen of Sequim’s 32 precincts voted for it.
Dickinson said he thinks people voted for Initiative 594 because they feel it’s too easy for people to receive guns who don’t register and/or have a prior criminal history.
“If some of those people go to a regular gun shop, they’ll get checked and not be able to buy a gun,” Dickinson said. “But if they go to private sellers or gun shows, it’s possible they may not register. It attempts to close the loop hole.”
However, Dickinson said he thinks the initiative won’t close the underground gun trade.
“When we arrest someone involved in the drug trade or is a felon, then they are not supposed to possess a firearm. If they do have a gun, it’s likely stolen,” Dickinson said. “Clearly, drug dealers would rather have money but they will trade for guns or stolen property. In the drug trade, guns are sometimes used for payment for other drugs.”