Gun Owners Still Confused About I-1639; Sheriff’s Office Is Buried in Background Checks



On July 1, 2019, I-1639 took full effect in the state of Washington. Seven months later, Shoni Pannkuk, co-owner of The Man Cave Outfitters in Downtown Centralia, says the news of I-1639 and the new process that comes with obtaining a firearm still catches some of her customers off-guard. 

“The number of, which was astounding to me, the number of customers we have, who are obviously gun enthusiasts, hunters, concealed carry, whatever, that have absolutely no idea what I-1639 was and the impacts that it now has,” Pannkuk said. “We get often (from customers) like, ‘I didn’t have to do this before, what do you mean I have to do this.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, that passed, it was effective July 1.’” 

According to the Washington Attorney General’s Office’s website, buyers have been required to go through, an “Enhanced background check and waiting period requirements for the purchase or transfer of semiautomatic assault rifles.” In addition, those looking to purchase a firearm after June 30, 2019 are required to have passed a “recognized firearm safety training program” within the last five years. It’s also the dealer’s responsibility to verify that a buyer has completed a course. 

The law also states that the training “must be sponsored by a federal, state, county or municipal law enforcement agency, a college or university, a nationally recognized organization that customarily offers firearms training, or a firearms training school with certified instructors.” Pannkuk still feels that verifying the legitimacy of a customer’s training can be ambiguous for the business.

“I can print up a certificate right at home that says I’ve completed it,” Pannkuk said. “I don’t know if the school on (the certificate) is a valid school, I mean, I don’t know.” 

Pannkuk also said she brought up the question regarding verification of the training course at a public hearing with the Washington Department of Licensing right around the time I-1639 was implemented. She said nobody had any answers.

When the law was implemented, Pannkuk described it as an instant change with “little to no guidance.”

“It was July 1,” Pannkuk said. “Here it is, here’s the law. It was terrible, which is why we went to the Department of Licensing. Like ‘What do you expect? Are we required to manage these training (sessions)? Am I required to authenticate them?’”

From Pannkuk’s perspective, the logistical impact of I-1639 is what has hit businesses the hardest. 

“(I-1639) has completely changed how we do the firearm sales,” Pannkuk said. “So, the mandatory 10-day wait that comes with any purchase of a semi-automatic rifle, requires the business, me, the owner, to monitor that. I have to now, A. figure out what jurisdiction you live in, not everybody knows that, surprisingly, you might think you’re in Lewis County, but maybe you’re in city limits. I don’t know that, there’s no database that tells us that information, but that’s where we have to send (the request for background), to your local jurisdiction. We guess, sometimes, if the customer doesn’t know, right, we’re going on what they say.”

Pannkuk added that beyond figuring out where to send those requests, she’s also in charge of sending each of them individually to the correct local jurisdiction.

“We’re a small business, so we don’t have a fax machine,” Pannkuk said. “Seattle Police Department requires you to fax (the request), that’s the only way they’ll accept it. So, I’ve had to mail them.”

Along with other gun store owners around the state, Shoni Pannkuk has volunteered to help design a “new system” to assist gun store owners in managing all of the new information required by I-1639. 

According to Hobe Pannkuk, Shoni’s husband and co-owner of The Man Cave Outfitters, the additions to the process has caused the sale of semi-automatic rifles in the shop to decrease. 

“I just had someone (Wednesday) take the I-1639 class, which we offer (at The Man Cave Outfitters) for free,” Hobe Pannkuk said. “He said that a couple of his buddies said, you know, ‘I’m not gonna take that stupid class,’ you know, so they’re just not going to buy semi-automatics anymore.” 

The law has also led to more background checks for gun purchases going through law enforcement.

“With the changes in the laws last year, there were essentially two different things that happened and both took effect in July,” said Chief Deputy Dusty Breen. “One, was the part of I-1639 that took effect that required semi-automatic assault rifles, as they’re now deemed by Washington state, which is any semi-automatic rifle, basically that background check now has to be done by local law enforcement.”

Breen said before the change in the laws, that check could be done by the merchant using the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Additionally, before July 1, 2019, those who already had a concealed pistol license and looked to buy an additional handgun could be approved by the NICS system, in the shop, and take the firearm the same day. Breen added that the information was still given to local law enforcement where an additional “secondary local check and mental health check,” would be conducted.

Now, all background checks on handgun purchases, as well as checks on semi-automatic purchases, are conducted by local law enforcement. That led to 308 background checks in Jan. 2020, an increase from the 264 conducted in Jan. 2019.

“The reason for the increase to local law enforcement is all your handguns and all your semi automatic assault rifles, which, again, or any semi-automatic rifle, are coming to law enforcement for the background check,” Breen said.

That process has caused delays in purchases, which, in some cases, has stopped people from buying altogether. According to Sheriff Rob Snaza, attendance numbers for the training classes put on by Lewis County have also dipped.   

“The last class we had, we only had about 50 people, maybe a little less than that, 40,” Snaza said in Tuesday’s meeting. “Before that, we had over 100. So, as the demand comes up, we’ll put on the class as necessary.”  

Lewis County Commissioner Bobby Jackson believes the new procedure for background checks has hurt the businesses in the area.  

“For people that have gun shops, people that are coming in that already have all the training and they’ve got their concealed weapons permit, they still have a waiting period to buy a new piece,” Commissioner Jackson said. “Gun shop owners are feeling that, because from an economic standpoint, it’s affecting their business.”

Still, even with all the hurdles that I-1639 now presents for prospective gun owners, Shoni Pannkuk doesn’t think the solution is for gun enthusiasts to stop buying.

Rather, she and Hobe hope those displeased with the new laws would take the time to educate themselves and make their voices heard. 

“How do we get people to vote,” Hobe Pannkuk said. “That was the big issue, a lot of these people that came in that had no idea what I-1639 was, didn’t vote. That’s why it passed.”