One month after a majority of the sweeping gun reform Initiative 1639 went into effect, Lewis County law enforcement agencies haven’t experienced much of a change, but they don’t expect that to last for long.
They’re awaiting a significant and largely undefined influx of paperwork coming their way.
“These next couple of months are going to be interesting because I don’t think we’re going to see the true volume of all those transfers coming in until a few months goes by,” said Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Dusty Breen.
Starting July 1, 2019, more extensive background check requirements went into effect, with the onus falling on local law enforcement agencies to conduct the required checks. The same date marked the end of courtesy checks run through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Checks allowing same-day purchases of handguns made by individuals carrying a concealed pistol license — again with the responsibility falling back on local law enforcement to conduct background checks for all handgun purchases.
And while all this spells out an increased workload on law enforcement records divisions — the divisions traditionally saddled with completing background checks — it’s uncertain just how much more is oncoming.
Prior to I-1639 going into effect, said Breen and Centralia Police Department Deputy Chief Stacy Denham, area law enforcement organizations noted an increase in firearms purchases from citizens hoping to obtain any wanted guns before new regulations took hold.
Now, said Denham, they’re seeing a bit of a lull in purchases, but they don’t know how long it will last
That uncertainty makes preparing for new work a challenge, he said.
“Currently, even if I went to our city council now and said ‘hey look we need a part-time person to help out with these things,’ we still don’t have the numbers to justify it,” Denham said.
What’s likely to follow is a waiting game to see what changes come down the pipeline.
Breen said the LCSO might consider shuffling around duties among support staff members, if the need becomes urgent.
“We just have to see where this goes, and until I have that statistical data, it’s hard to kind of move forward and plan. Right now, we’ve talked about different possibilities as far as we might have to reallocate some of staff to different things,” he said.
Law enforcement agencies in surrounding counties appear to be in the same holding pattern, Breen said. In recent months, he’s been asked to travel around to nearby jurisdictions to give presentations on what the new law — which gun rights groups are challenging with various lawsuits — contains and how law enforcement factors into new requirements.
He’s given talks at a Washington Association of Sheriff’s and Police Chiefs (WASPC) in May, followed by similar presentations in Lewis, Mason and Cowlitz counties, as well as for all jurisdictions inside the Region 3 Critical Incident Investigation Team — Lewis, Thurston, Grays Harbor, Mason and Pacific counties.
“What these classes were about is pointing out areas of concern as far as volume and work that are going to increase with the law, some unfunded mandates, as well as just educating them on all the pieces,” he said.
Additionally, in July, the LCSO provided a four-hour training and educational session, again with Breen at the helm, for citizens — both to satisfy additional training requirements included in the new law and to educate on what the law contains. Around 200 citizens registered to take the class, but 140 attended. Breen said the feedback was positive, and LCSO intends to host another in the fall. A specific date hasn’t been set. Likely, two such training sessions will be held per year.
I-1639, a 30-page document, mandates raising the required age of semiautomatic rifle owners, encourages safe storage techniques, intensified background checks and waiting list periods for anyone interested in owning a gun.
In its opening paragraphs, there is a list of cities whose names have in past years become synonymous with mass shootings.
“Enough is enough,” it reads. “The impact of gun violence by assault weapons fall heavily on children and teenagers. According to one analysis, more than two hundred eight thousand students attended at least two hundred twelve schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine mass shooting in 1999. Active shooter drills are normal for a generation of American schoolchildren, instilling at a young age the sad and unnecessary realization that a mass shooting can happen in any community, in any school, at any time.”
In May, Chehalis Police Chief Glenn Schaffer included the coming changes in a request for a reshuffling of staffing at Chehalis’s police department. Although, he noted, the change in the law wasn’t the only reason the changes were made. An old position was eliminated and two more were created.
Had such laws been in effect in 2017, Schaffer said the department would have had to run 119 background checks rather than the 33 they actually did that year.