By Dave Kopel
One way scam artists make money is by peddling mislabeled goods. The label on the can says “Wild Alaskan Salmon,” but what’s really inside is codfish from a filthy breeding pen in China, plus some food coloring.
Selling mislabeled goods is illegal, but there’s nothing illegal about mislabeled laws. Michael Bloomberg knows that difference, and he is exploiting it.
Right now in the state of Washington, Bloomberg is pushing a November ballot measure that is promoted as being about background checks for private sales. But it is really a law to criminalize most gun owners, including those who never sell guns. If passed, the deceptive Bloomberg ban for Washington state is then going to become the national model, to gradually be imposed on gun owners nationwide.
Bloomberg plans to run a similar ballot measure in Oregon in 2015 and in a dozen or more states in 2016. One of them is Nevada, where the 2016 campaign is already in progress. Bloomberg’s Nevada operation calls itself “Nevadans for Background Checks” and is operated by Melissa Warren, the managing partner at the Faiss Foley Warren Public Relations & Government Affairs lobbying firm.
Bloomberg and his minions claim they are just promoting background checks on private sales. But as usual, they are lying.
One way to tell that Bloomberg is selling a mislabeled law is to read the actual proposal. In this case, it is 18 pages long. It would only take a couple of pages to require background checks on private sales of firearms, if that were all the law did.
Instead, the law is a comprehensive scheme to criminalize the normal use of firearms, thus turning most gun owners into criminals, from whom firearms can be confiscated.
When Washington voters cast their ballots this fall, here is what they will see:
“Initiative Measure No. 594 concerns background checks for firearm sales and transfers.
“This measure would apply the currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions.
“Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ].”
What the voters won’t see is what I-594 really does.
I-594 expands the Washington state government database on handguns and handgun owners. Currently, it includes handguns bought at retail and their buyers. If I-594 is passed, it will include almost every handgun owner and borrower since, if you borrow your grandfather’s handgun for the weekend, you’ll be required to be listed in the database.
It’s not as if the database on handgun owners accomplishes any good. Currently, database entries are backlogged by nine months, and I-594 would aggravate the problem.
Interestingly, the Facebook page of Washington’s anti-gun lobby, the misnamed “Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility,” dishonestly calls concerns about the database on gun owners a “myth.”
I-594 is actually far more repressive than even the notoriously severe gun laws of California. There, private sales of firearms must be routed through firearm dealers, with the sales processed just as if the dealer were selling a firearm out of his own inventory—including all the same paperwork, with the dealer having to keep a permanent record on the buyer.
But California has exemptions for firearm loans. You can loan a firearm for up to 30 days to someone you personally know. You can loan a licensed hunter a long gun for the duration of the relevant hunting season. You can let a friend hold your gun in his hand while you’re teaching your friend about gun safety. Not so under I-594.
How much will it cost to loan a gun to someone under I-594? You would have to take the gun to a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) for processing, and the FFL can charge essentially any fee he or she wants to charge. Typically, FFL fees for processing private transfers (e.g., interstate sales between private individuals) are about $35 to $50, because of the time involved in filling out the paperwork and the legal danger to the FFL if there are any errors in the paperwork.
Then, when your friend is ready to return the gun to you, you both have to go back to the FFL and pay for the processing of another transaction.
There are additional costs. The Bloomberg lobby insists that the transaction is exempt from sales tax. This is true. But it’s not exempt from the use tax. The use tax in Washington ranges from 7.1 percent to 9.5 percent, depending on the locality—in other words, about an additional $25 on a $300 used gun. And don’t plan on evading the tax—the Washington gun registry will have the record of your purchase.
With few exceptions, I-594 requires all firearm “transfers,” no matter how short, to be routed through retail gun stores. This includes allowing someone to hold your gun while under your continuous supervision—even letting a friend shoulder your unloaded new double-barrel to see how it feels.
Once you go to the gun store to seek approval to let a friend or family member borrow your gun for a couple of hours, you then have to wait up to 10 business days for the friend or family member to take custody of the gun. Add another potential 10-day wait when the gun is returned to you, which again must be routed through the gun store.
Unless your transfer is otherwise exempt (i.e., a gunsmith returning a repaired gun to a customer), the only exceptions to the 10-day waiting period are if local law enforcement approves the transaction sooner or if the person receiving the gun has a concealed carry permit.
Consequently, I-594 would radically undermine gun safety training. NRA-certified instructors often teach the first part of their classes at an office building, church, school or home. No ammunition is allowed in the room. During the first phase, students learn to handle guns safely—e.g., always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction; keep your finger off the trigger; make sure the slide or bolt is locked open when handing a gun to someone else.
Students may practice dry firing (i.e., operating a firearm without live ammunition and with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction with a variety of different types of firearms to gain exposure to the way they handle and function). During the course of instruction, the instructors and students may “transfer” multiple firearms dozens of times, with each transfer lasting only a few minutes or less.
Under I-594, every one of these “transfers” would be a separate crime. The first transfer would be a gross misdemeanor, and every subsequent transfer would be a felony.
A gross misdemeanor is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of $5,000, or both. The second offense (that is, when the instructor hands his or her gun to a second student) is a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, or both. The felony conviction automatically prohibits a person from possessing a firearm for the rest of his or her life.
I-594 does have an exemption if “the firearm is kept at all times, at an established shooting range authorized by the governing body of the jurisdiction in which such range is located.”
Thus, it would be impossible to teach firearm safety anywhere except at “an established range.” Even then, the firearms must be “kept at all times” at the range, which may make it illegal to use any firearms other than those that are permanently stored at the range.
It would be illegal for anyone to informally teach gun safety to a friend—such as by inviting a friend to your house and allowing him or her to handle one of your unloaded guns while under your supervision. For that matter, it would be illegal even to let almost any family member handle one of your firearms just to examine it for a few minutes.
Bloomberg’s advocates say there are plenty of exceptions. You can make “a bona fide gift” to a family member, but you can’t loan or sell a gun to a family member without filling out the paperwork and going through the transfer process.
Except for gifts, the only sharing of guns among family members that is exempt is between spouses and domestic partners. Other family loans aren’t covered; allowing your brother to handle your guns when he visits your house, for example, isn’t permitted without a formal transfer.
The above applies to adult family members. Most sharing of guns with minor children would be outlawed, even for people who go to the gun store twice, pay the fees and fill out the paperwork.
Federal law prohibits FFLs from transferring handguns to persons under age 21 and long guns to persons under 18. So a retail gun dealer cannot participate in a transfer allowing the transfer of a rifle to a 17-year-old daughter, for instance.
Let’s be clear: Bloomberg’s I-594 makes it legally impossible for you to lend a handgun to your 20-year-old daughter for her to use on a hunting trip with her friends or to take to the range by herself. If you do this twice, you and your daughter are both guilty of felonies. The only time loans to minors are allowed is when the minor is “under the direct supervision and control” of a “responsible adult” and only for the listed uses.
Sharing is allowed at “an established shooting range authorized by the governing body of the jurisdiction in which such range is located.” But you can’t share your guns while plinking with friends and family on your own property. Nor can you do so on public lands where shooting is allowed, such as a national forest or Bureau of Land Management property.
Bloomberg’s staff promises that loans are allowed for hunting, but that is not exactly true. Unlike in California, under I-594 you can’t loan a gun to friends or family members who are going hunting on their own. Loans are only allowed while in the field among members of a hunting party.
Now suppose the hunting party returns to a motel for the night. You’d like to help your hunting buddy out by cleaning his gun. That would be against the law. The hunting exception only applies “if the hunting is legal in all places where the person to whom the firearm is transferred possesses the firearm.” Motel rooms are not legal places for hunting. Thus, you and your friend are both criminals.
Suppose you’re out in the field with a hunting guide. You have an elk tag for the particular game management unit and date. Your guide doesn’t have that tag, because he’s not going to take an animal. He’s just there to help you. Your gun has a malfunction, and you hand it to your guide, who quickly fixes it. Both of you have just committed a crime. Sharing while hunting is only permissible if each person to whom the firearm is transferred possesses “all licenses or permits required for such hunting.”
Finally, I-594 is written to make sure that even if you do obey all its repressive dictates, you can still be prosecuted. Let’s say you give your brother a pair of shotguns for his birthday. The provision allowing gifts to family members, like all the other exceptions, is an “affirmative defense.” That’s a legal term of art. An “affirmative defense” empowers the prosecutor handling each case to decide whether to take into account evidence of compliance with an exception or to force the accused to take on the expense and risk of “telling it to the judge.” It does not grant immunity from prosecution in the first place.
Cheryl Stumbo, who is one of Bloomberg’s staffers in Washington state, dismisses the above concerns as “one-in-a-million hypotheticals”—as if loaning your gun to your brother for a weekend were some bizarre and unusual activity. Her remarks are in a recorded debate before the Seattle Times editorial board, available at www.tvw.org/index.php?option=com_tvwplayer&eventID=2014060083. Among the participants in the debate is NRA spokesman Brian Judy.
What about the ban on sharing firearms while target shooting on public lands? Stumbo retorted that it would be safer to shoot only on formal ranges.
Will Washingtonians learn the truth about I-594 before they vote? Time will tell.
The Bloomberg empire is spending vast sums in its disinformation campaign. As of early June, the I-594 lobby had received $2.383 million. Bill Gates, a long-established supporter of anti-gun efforts, also backs I-594.
Bloomberg’s advertising for I-594 relies on the testimony of selected victims of some notorious gun crimes, including Stumbo and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. This is notwithstanding the fact that the perpetrators of these crimes (Jared Loughner in Tucson, Ariz., in January 2011; Naveed Afzal Haq at the Seattle Jewish Federation in July 2006) bought their guns at retail stores and passed background checks. The same is true for Elliot Rodger, who murdered three people with a knife and three people with a gun in Santa Barbara, Calif., in May 2014.
Indeed, one of the few notorious mass killers who didn’t pass a background check was Newtown murderer Adam Lanza, who obtained his guns by murdering his mother (who had passed numerous background checks) and then stole her guns.
All these facts aside, I-594 is getting plenty of media support. The Seattle Times has endorsed it, while not even addressing I-594’s severe burdens on firearm owners who never even sell a gun. Much of the media coverage parrots the Bloomberg line about “private sales” without even mentioning I-594’s prohibition of short-term loans, or on sharing firearms.
Formally, the chief spokesman for I-594 is Dan Satterberg, a Republican who is the King County Prosecutor. (King County includes Seattle and a huge region of suburbs to the north, south and east.) As revealed during the Seattle Times debate, Satterberg had privately said that I-594 would be a waste of prosecutorial and police resources—an ineffective law that would be ignored by gang members and drug dealers. Yet Satterberg felt that he had to support it because he himself would also be on the ballot in November 2014.
This has apparently turned out to be a good political strategy. Perhaps as result of Satterberg taking the lead on gun control, the Democrats are not running an opponent against him.
Satterberg, for his part, acknowledges that the text of I-594 does outlaw sharing among family and friends. Yet at the Seattle Times debate, he dismissed the problem as “an absurd hypothetical.” He insisted that personal loans were not the point of the initiative.
That’s a strange claim by an experienced prosecutor. The point of a law is whatever the law says, and I-594 outlaws almost all sharing of firearms. If that’s not the point of what Bloomberg wants to do, then Bloomberg could have written the law accordingly, as did the authors of the California law.
The good news from Washington is that the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs (WACOPS) has voted to oppose I-594. WACOPS is the state’s oldest organization representing rank-and-file law enforcement officers, and has more than 4,500 members. Like the vast majority of police officers and sheriffs’ deputies, WACOPS recognizes that overbroad measures like I-594 severely harm law-abiding gun owners, while doing nothing to help public safety or law enforcement.
Likewise, the Washington State Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association (WSLEFIA) has taken a strong stand against I-594. Here are some excerpts from their statement on I-594, which you can read in full at their website, wslefia.com:
“I-594 is a law so broadly written that it clearly is designed to make criminals of all recreational shooters and most law enforcement officers.”
The Bloomberg measure, the group says, “is a law that will be impossible to police, intended to criminalize only good citizens, a costly misdirection of scarce [law enforcement] resources and funds, and a statute so broadly written that many of your own activities will become crimes.”
WSLEFIA points out that I-594 would criminalize an officer who buys an off-duty carry handgun from a brother officer.
It estimates that, “based on the broad definition of transfer there must be thousands of transfers each weekend … Instead of spending scarce public funds on serious law enforcement needs, the State will be required to spend money on personnel to move all that paper, enlarge databases to hold it, and create records for all these transactions.”
In sum, “I-594 transforms casual, innocent, ordinary, non-criminal behavior into a misdemeanor or felony. It diverts public funds to a useless database, unproductive prosecutions and wasted jail space for convicted offenders.”
Yet Mark Kelly (the husband of Gabrielle Giffords), who heads his own anti-gun organization, promises that I-594 “will make our communities safer without infringing anybody’s Second Amendment rights.”
So far, the Bloomberg lobby is fooling a lot of people. According to a Seattle Times poll, even many gun owners support I-594. And Bloomberg has made it clear that I-594 is the model to impose throughout the United States.
Thus I-594 isn’t a proposal that all of us living outside of Washington can simply ignore. It’s a dangerous model that supporters hope to spread throughout the country if passed. America’s 1st Freedom readers with family, friends or co-workers in Washington state should make sure they understand the ramifications of this restrictive proposal before Election Day rolls around this November.