Washington House OKs Bill to Centralize Gun Background Checks


OLYMPIA — Rarely, if ever, do the National Rifle Association and the Alliance for Gun Responsibility agree on firearms legislation.

But on Thursday, the Washington House passed a bill supported by those opposing advocacy groups to centralize gun-purchase background checks under the Washington State Patrol.

House Bill 2467 passed 66-32, and now heads to the Senate for consideration. Every House Democrat but one supported the bill, along with 10 Republicans.

The proposal would overhaul a decentralized background-check system that studies have described as fragmented, complicated and possibly loose enough to allow some people prohibited from buying guns to get one.

The checks make sure would-be buyers aren't prohibited by law from having guns, such as a felon, someone civilly committed for mental-health issues, or some people named on protection orders.

In 2017, the FBI and Washington law-enforcement agencies conducted a combined 580,000 background checks on gun buyers here.

A centralized system will strengthen background checks, which are "the foundation of the entire state's gun-safety regime," said Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island and sponsor of the bill.

"You get that right, people don't die," Hansen said after the vote. "You get it wrong, it's very difficult to fix."

Right now, firearms dealers contact more than 200 local law-enforcement agencies around Washington to conduct background checks to make sure buyers of handguns are allowed to have them. A voter-approved initiative in 2018, known as Initiative 1639, directed local law enforcement to also conduct checks for buyers of semi-automatic rifles.

For people buying long guns like lever-action rifles or shotguns, those dealers contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which conducts the checks through a federal database.

Under HB 2467, the State Patrol would create a background-checks unit that would be used by firearms dealers for any type of gun purchase.

To maintain the new unit, the State Patrol would start a fee of up to $18 that firearms dealers would charge gun buyers.

The bill intends for that fee to replace a fee that I-1639 established solely for buyers of semiautomatic assault rifles, meaning those people would not pay twice.

Supporters of the bill say a centralized system would provide a more thorough check of existing records, better-trained staff and faster response times for lawful gun buyers.

It also would relieve the costs and burden for local law-enforcement agencies of conducting checks.

"Every local police department and every local courthouse is going to save quite a bit of money on this," said Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-Enumclaw, who works outside the Legislature as a Seattle police officer.

In speeches on the House floor, some Republicans said they opposed the bill not because of the concept, but because they viewed the fee on gun buyers as a burden or an infringement of their Second Amendment rights.

"Let's just fund the needed revenue elsewhere," said Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, during the House debate. "Let's not put a fee on people."

In the Washington Senate on Thursday, Democratic lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5434, which among other things would bar guns from licensed child-care centers. That bill passed 27-20, largely along party lines.