Thursday, December 18, 2014

One Man's Experience with Washington's New Background Check Law

Seattle Times (opinion)

I went with some friends to check out the first gun and knife show in Centralia since the roll-out of Initiative 594 on Dec. 4. The new law, passed overwhelmingly by a majority of voters, closes the “gun show loophole.” Under current federal law, background checks are required only for sales by licensed firearms dealers. I-594 expands those background checks to private transfers or sales, common to gun shows.
“Remember to dress Lewis County and not Seattle-USC,” my friend text messaged me beforehand. I think I blended in just fine, other than the fact I was one of only two people of color there. 
At the entrance of the venue, a huge sign read “NO LOADED GUNS.” Security guards at the entrance provided zip ties to help people lock guns they wanted to bring inside to trade.
For the full experience, I went through a free background check after eyeing a $300 Winchester shotgun. Bremerton-based Palmer Ordnance was there to run the background checks using the federal database. I filled out a private-party transfer information sheet and a federal Firearms Transaction Record known as Form 4473. 
We had a slight problem.  The vintage gun I was interested in purchasing did not have a serial number. Someone brought it over from the dealer’s table. No digits anywhere, but that didn’t stop the process. They started the check; I was cleared almost instantly. 
To complete the trade, I would have to show the dealer this confirmation note:

Photo by Thanh Tan

Some of the wording in the new law could be clarified. But from my experience,  I just don’t view the concept of background checks as a huge burden.
Technically, I was not supposed to handle the firearm at all until the background check was complete and the seller was notified, but the gun had no ammunition and I probably looked harmless. In any case, there was no way anyone there was going to enforce the rule.

35 comments:

  1. Gee, I'm glad he looked harmless enough that nobody wanted to enforce the badly written rule against him.

    Good thing he didn't have tattoos, wasn't black, or didn't have some other characteristic that caused somebody to get nervous enough to enforce that rule.

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    1. Yeah, I suppose that's how it works.

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    2. You're all over the police for being racists, for enforcing stupid laws like the one they thought Garner might have been breaking, etc. right up until we're discussing gun laws. Then, suddenly, the police are paragons of virtue who would never take advantage of a badly written law to jail a couple of black men for passing a gun back and forth before running a background check, and who would never arrest a guy they have been wanting to get, but unable to find any evidence against, and who they saw teaching a friend to shoot, not knowing that they needed background checks before they could pass the gun back and forth at the range.

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    3. You're right, but with poorly written gun laws, the good far outweighs the potential harm.

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    4. What the Hell, Mike?!? You about gave me a fucking aneurism!

      So, you understand and agree that poorly written laws like this provide opportunities for abuse of people's civil rights by the police under cover of law--cover which is nigh impossible to pierce.

      And then you turn around and say that the good here outweighs the bad?!?

      ARE YOU CRAZY? We already have a problem with police using much better written laws to abuse the civil rights of minorities and you want to now give them this kind of carte blanche? And on the issue of guns? When cops are already jumpy as hell and often trigger happy? You now want their easiest way to abuse the civil rights of anyone they want to to be linked to guns so that they'll be on even more of a hair trigger, and even more likely to bring in the SWAT team and kill everyone in the room?

      Frankly, when I thought you were willfully blind to the potential abuses of such a poorly written law I could stomach your support of it slightly better than this insanity. One would think that we would want gun laws to be some of the best written--after all, you don't want them to be struck down by the court for overbreadth, and you also shouldn't want them to leave openings for corrupt cops to abuse people's rights and potentially kill them without consequence.

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    5. Please refer to ssgmarkcr's comment below at 1:03 am.

      Sometimes I can't tell who's side he's on, but then I remember he's just an honest guy who calls 'em like he sees 'em. You fanatics could learn something from that.

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    6. Yes, Mike, SSG gave a good description of police discretion--what it looks like and where we see it. These are little exercises of it under fairly tightly written laws.that give them very little room to exercise such discretion. When you have a badly written law that gives them wide latitude like this one it opens things up for huge abuses.

      What SSG said doesn't change the fact that you recognized the problems in this law; recognized the potential for abuse, and then decided that it's fine to give police this tool that they can use to target people they want to target, potentially target them with lethal force, because at least it's anti-gun.

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    7. Mike, considering how you've been dinging law enforcement lately in regards to use of force and rights abuses, and in light of abuses of power by the federal government, I would hope you understand the dangers taken on with poorly written laws where you have to count on the "common sense" of a government official to make it work right.
      Its interesting how this particular paradigm has turned about over the years. Seemingly not so long ago, liberals were the ones who were ever distrustful of powerful government and always skeptical when asked to trust the good intentions of those in power.
      And now we seem to see some of the same abuses and requests from the government to trust them, yet, now its conservatives who are the ones doing the questioning. The only difference I can see is who is in charge.
      And in my opinion, such skepticism on both sides is a good thing. This law seems as about well thought out as the SAFE Act in NY, and if I recall correctly, that resulted in a special session of the legislature to be called to fix the worst of the errors. Hopefully they can fix the parts that are exceptionally stupid so that well meaning citizens aren't risking a felony charge.

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    8. Kurt and Sarge said it quite well regarding police discretion. I’ve said before that 99.9something% of the new crimes from this bill will go unpunished. They’ll be way too pervasive, hard to catch, and the system couldn’t possibly handle much more than that anyway. Plus we know that most (but not all) police opposed i594 in the first place, so yes, I expect discretion to be applied in most (but not all) cases where someone is caught in one of these innocuous crimes. So what? Is that a reason to support the law? Look, you can’t just write bad law and then say “well, we just won’t enforce that part” and expect people to go along with it. You wouldn’t accept that for a law aimed at immigration reform, or some other issue that liberals care about.

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    9. "So what? Is that a reason to support the law?"

      NOOOOOO. Aren't you listening? The fact that we don't expect widespread abuse to occur due to the poor wording of the law is not the reason we support it. We support it because it'll prevent countless transfers from good gun owner to bad gun owner. That's why we support it.

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    10. Here's a thought: only support laws that have the parts you want, and if it is filled with draconian BS where we can only hope it goes completely unenforced- then don't support it.

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    11. MikeB: "The fact that we don't expect widespread abuse to occur due to the poor wording of the law is not the reason we support it. We support it because it'll prevent countless transfers from good gun owner to bad gun owner."

      Wait... you are saying even if you did expect widespread abuse of the poor wording of the law to occur, you would still support it? Holy cow.

      And by the way, the problems with the law are not because they worded it poorly, it was by design. They banned exactly what they wanted to ban. You don’t accidently put a restriction on CCW training classes when you make a specific exemption only for training children. They could have left the part out about being less than 18 years old.

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  2. When selling this law, they tried to make it seem like it was about gun shows- that they were being "reasonable". Gun show sales are the least onerous part of the law. What would his experience be like if there weren't dozens of people within 500ft of him who are the only ones able to allow him to comply with the law.

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  3. In any case, there was no way anyone there was going to enforce the rule.

    Any law that can only be rendered not onerous by its not being enforced is an unjust law that should never have been written.

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    1. Kurt's statement was a nice, concise rendering of a principle of both good legal drafting and existing jurisprudence on overbroad laws. I'm glad you got the ego boost of mocking Kurt and TS there, Mike, but you really don't want to live in a world without the principle Kurt propounded there.

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    2. You guys are full of it. The law prevents unqualified people from having easy access to guns. That's the bulk of it, not the rare possible scenarios you gun nuts keep inventing.

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    3. That's the bulk of it, not the rare possible scenarios you [liberty advocates] keep inventing.

      No, the "inventing" was done by the geniuses who wrote this law, "inventing" novel new ways to become a felon.

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    4. Mike,

      That's like ending the constitutional evaluation of voter ID laws by saying "The Law prevents unqualified people from voting. That's the bulk of it, not the rare possible scenarios you ____ keep inventing."

      The intent of a law is only part of the analysis. You also have to look at the effects and run several more layers of analysis. If you refuse to do this for laws you like then kindly stop complaining about ones you don't like until you've developed the emotional maturity to be able to look critically at your own proposals.

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  4. These comments show why they are called gun LOONS.

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  5. While we're on the topic of whether or not it is reasonable to fear that the police might enforce a law as written, warts and all, let's pause for a moment to have a look at this silliness from the home of stupid gun laws:

    http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2014/12/trenton_man_charged_with_gun_possession_despite_having_no_use_of_his_arms.html

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    1. A perfect example of a terrible injustice.

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  6. The problem with poorly written laws is that they count on law enforcement to either use "common sense" or to be honest. If the law is written so poorly that Chiefs and/or Sheriffs have to make public statements about what their interpretation of the law is, then its vulnerable to misuse, intentionally, or not.

    "Now a public letter has gone out from sheriff-elect Rob Snaza and prosecutor Jonathan Meyer of Lewis County saying they won't be going out and prosecuting people who inadvertently violate the background check law.
    "We wanted to make sure that the citizens of Lewis County knew that we weren't looking to make criminals out of ordinary citizens," Meyer said.
    Meyer and Snaza are the first elected officials to come out publicly saying I-594 is too over-reaching. They put this message out because they feel there's too much confusion about I-594 and they want to make it clear about what they'll do and what they won't do.
    "'We're not going to try to trap citizens into transferring a gun to a friend and then try to nab them on a violation of 594," Meyer said. "That's not what we're interested in."

    http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Lewis-County-tones-down-gun-initiative-286032081.html

    I wonder what other counties will make similar statements. Or more importantly, which ones wont.

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    1. The thing is, those statements do NOTHING for you if you are charged--even if they did what they said they wouldn't do. They probably won't go after most people, but if they're having trouble building a case against someone, their commitment to these statements might just waver a bit--after all, this is a bad guy, so it's ok to use this against him. And then the next . . .

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    2. We would soon be in quite a mess if officers get to decide which laws to enforce, or not. Any inequity (perceived or real) in the law is for the courts to decide.

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    3. "We would soon be in quite a mess if officers get to decide which laws to enforce, or not."

      Happens all the time Anon. Its called police discretion. Ever get pulled over for speeding and just get a warning? Police discretion. Ever get caught drinking underage and the cop just makes you pour out the beer and leave? Police discretion.
      Ever get a speeding ticket and he bumps the observed speed down a bit to lower the fine or points against insurance? Police discretion. Even better,
      Remember the 1,000 demonstrators in Washington state? You know, the ones where no one was arrested? Police discretion.

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    4. Anon at 6:24 PM

      Does this mean that you oppose the president's executive action on Immigration? And the other instances of prosecutorial discretion he and his administration have exercised?

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    5. I have no problem with police and prosecutorial discretion--I think it's fine that those who enforce the law and impose justice can, as the situation dictates, cut an offender some slack.

      The problem is with laws so draconian, whether by design or through simple incompetence on the part of the people who write them, that we must count on such merciful wisdom on the part of the enforcers, to avoid people going to prison for years for behavior that harms no one. That's unconscionable, especially for those who live in (or are merely passing through) places like New Jersey, where no such wisdom and decency are to be found (granted, in this particular example, the problem is not that the accused was convicted of a felony, and will spend years in prison--although maybe that can't be ruled out--but that he has spent four months and counting in jail, awaiting trial for a crime he obviously didn't commit. The same principle applies, though).

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    6. As I said SS, it's for the courts to decide, not a cop on the street. A cops decision on the street IS answerable to the courts decision, it doesn't get to just stand.
      It's amazing how you gun loons think all laws should not have any injustice in practice. I guess that's why you are so idiotic about about gun laws. Of course they don't work 100%, but perfection is not the laws intent, public safety is.

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    7. "Of course they don't work 100%, but perfection is not the laws intent, public safety is. "

      So because something is unfair to only a few people and it makes public safety as a whole safer (your claim), then we should be ok with it?
      This sounds disturbingly like the train of thought used to justify other practices done for the sake of the greater good. The most onerous and recent among them being torture being performed against people conveniently labeled "enemy combatants" to avoid responsibility for their humane treatment under the Geneva and Hague Conventions.
      I don't approve of either.

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    8. Who's doing the torturing? Did you train soldiers to torture? I certainly don't approve of torture, but it's nice of you to lie and claim I am. Next filthy lie SS.......

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  7. What does the President's executive action have to do with prosecutorial discretion? I personally think a better example of what I was referring to is allowing the legalization of marijuana in two states under state law while still keeping it illegal under federal law.
    Or how about when states and cities pass real live laws ordering their law enforcement personnel to not enforce immigration law violations. But when anyone mentions anything about passing a law that says they wont enforce federal gun control laws, everyone gets the vapors?
    I think those are better examples. The Presidents executive action is being addressed legislatively and through the courts.

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