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Washington Gun Laws

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

STATE CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISION - Article 1, Section 24.

“The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.” 

Gun Laws Overview

RIFLES & SHOTGUNS HANDGUNS
Permit to Purchase No* No*
Registration of Firearms No* No*
Licensing of Owners No* No*
Permit to Carry No Yes

* A police and Department of Licensing record is made of purchases and transfers of handguns and "semiautomatic assault rifles." 

The list and map below are included as a tool to assist you in validating your information.  We have made every effort to report the information correctly, however reciprocity and recognition agreements are subject to frequent change.  The information is not intended as legal advice or a restatement of law and does not include:  restrictions that may be placed on non-resident permits, individuals under the age of 21, qualifying permit classes, and/or any other factor which may limit reciprocity and/or recognition. For any particular situation, a licensed local attorney must be consulted for an accurate interpretation.  YOU MUST ABIDE WITH ALL LAWS: STATE, FEDERAL AND LOCAL. 

RECIPROCITY NOTES: Washington’s reciprocity law requires that the other state not issue licenses to persons under the age of 21. Washington honors only the ENHANCED permit for Idaho and South Dakota and the CLASS 1 permit for North Dakota: http://www.atg.wa.gov/concealed-weapon-reciprocity. Michigan recognizes Washington’s RESIDENT permit only. 

 

STATE STATUS
Castle Doctrine No Law
No-Net Loss No Legislation
Right to Carry Confidentiality Provisions Enacted
Right to Carry in Restaurants Partial Ban
Right To Carry Laws Shall Issue
Right To Carry Reciprocity and Recognition Conditional Recognition
Right to Keep & Bear Arms State Constitutional Provisions With Provisions
Concealed Carry Reciprocity
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Click on a State to see the Gun Law Profile

 

Laws on Purchase, Possession and Carrying of Firearms

Antiques and Replicas

Washington State law defines an antique firearm as “a firearm or replica of a firearm not designed or redesigned for using rim fire or conventional center fire ignition with fixed ammunition and manufactured in or before 1898, including any matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system and also any firearm using fixed ammunition manufactured in or before 1898, for which ammunition is no longer manufactured in the United States and is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.010(1).

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Requirements regarding licensed firearm dealers and the delivery of handguns do not apply to the sale of antique firearms. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.090(9).

The state background check law, Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.113, which requires that all sales, loans, and other “transfers” of a firearm be conducted through a licensed firearm dealer, exempts the “sale or transfer of an antique firearm.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.113(4)(b).

Regulations regarding the carrying of handguns in Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.050 do not apply to “regularly enrolled members of clubs organized for the purpose of modern and antique firearm collecting, when those members are at or are going to or from their collector’s gun shows and exhibits.”  Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.060(7).

The state law on disposal of forfeited firearms directs that a law enforcement agency holding such guns must dispose of “antique firearms and firearms recognized as curios, relics, and firearms of particular historical significance by the United States treasury department bureau of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives” by auction or trade to licensed dealers, and such guns are exempt from destruction. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.098(2)(c).

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Possession

There are no state licensing requirements for the possession of rifles, shotguns or handguns.

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Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.040 prohibits the following persons from owning, possessing, or having control over a firearm:

  • Anyone previously convicted (or as a juvenile, adjudicated) or found not guilty by reason of insanity of any “serious offense,” or any other felony, or the following crimes committed by one family/household member or intimate partner against another: harassment (offenses after June 7, 2018), or assault in the fourth degree, coercion, stalking, reckless endangerment, criminal trespass in the first degree, or violation of the provisions of a protection order or no-contact order restraining the person or excluding the person from a residence.
  • Anyone currently subject to a protection order issued after a hearing with actual notice, that prohibits harassing, stalking, or threatening the person protected under the order or child of the person or protected person, or other conduct that would place the protected person in reasonable fear of bodily injury to the protected person or child, and that either (1) includes a finding that the person represents a credible threat to the physical safety of the protected person or child and explicitly prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the protected person or child, or (2) includes a requirement that the person surrender all firearms and prohibits the person from accessing, obtaining, or possessing firearms.
  • Anyone that has been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment (including as a minor), unless the right to possess a firearm has been restored.
  • Any person in respect of which, after dismissal of criminal charges based on incompetency to stand trial, the court has made a finding indicating that the defendant has a history of one or more violent acts, unless his or her right to possess a firearm has been restored.
  • Any person free on bond or personal recognizance pending trial, appeal, or sentencing for a “serious offense.”
  • Any person under 18 years of age, except as allowed in Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.042 (lawful hunting or trapping; hunter’s safety or a firearms safety course; using a firearm or target shooting at an established range any other area where the discharge of a firearm is not prohibited; engaging in or practicing for an organized competition; with permission at a residence or other property under the control of his or her parent, other relative, or legal guardian; or as a member of the US armed forces, national guard, or organized reserves, when on duty).*

A “serious offense” is defined at Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.010(28) – generally violent felony crimes; any felony with a deadly weapon verdict; any felony violation of the uniform controlled substances act, vehicular assault, incest, drive-by shooting, and others. 

“Convicted” includes a dismissal entered after a period of probation, suspension or deferral of sentence, but does not include a conviction that has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, certificate of rehabilitation, or other equivalent procedure. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.040(3).

*Special restrictions apply to possession of handguns and “semiautomatic assault rifles” by persons aged over 18 but under 21 years of age. A person aged at least 18 but under 21 may possess a handgun in the person’s “place of abode,” the person’s fixed place of business, or on real property under his or her control, unless an additional exception under Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.41.042, 9.41.050, or 9.41.060 applies. A person aged at least 18 but under 21 may possess a “semiautomatic assault rifle” in the person’s “place of abode,” the person’s fixed place of business, or on real property under his or her control, unless the “places and situations identified” in Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.41.042 (1) through (9), and 9.41.060 (1) through (10), apply (incl. attendance at a hunter's safety or a firearms safety course, lawful hunting or trapping, engaging in an organized competition or target shooting at an authorized range, or as a member of the armed forces of the United States, national guard, or organized reserves, when on duty). Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.042.

A separate law, Wash. Rev. Code §§ 71.05.182(1) and 9.41.049, strips the gun rights of a person who has been detained at a facility for 72-hour evaluation and treatment due to mental illness on the grounds that the person presents a likelihood of serious harm, but where the person has not been subsequently committed by court order for involuntary treatment. The person is prohibited from possessing or controlling any firearm for a period of six months following the date on which the person was detained. He or she must immediately surrender, for the six-month period, any concealed pistol license and any firearms that the person possesses or controls to the sheriff of the county or the chief of police of the municipality in which the person lives. After the six-month period expires, the person’s right to control or possess any firearm or concealed pistol license must be automatically restored, unless there are further restrictions imposed by another law.

The person may bring legal proceedings to petition the court under Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.047(3) to restore his or her right to possess a firearm before the six-month period has elapsed. Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.41.049(3), 71.05.182(2)(d).

Washington State also restricts the possession of firearms by persons who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. It is a felony for a person who is not a U.S. citizen/ permanent resident to possess a firearm unless the person: (1) has obtained a valid alien firearm license pursuant to Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.173, or (2) meets the exemptions in Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.175 (generally, visitors in the country legally who possess a valid hunting license issued by a state or territory of the United States or possess an invitation to participate in a trade show or sport shooting event being conducted in the United States or a contiguous country, and who meet the other specific requirements). Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.171.

As a sentence condition and requirement, offenders under the supervision of the department of corrections are prohibited from owning, using, or possessing firearms or ammunition. Firearms or ammunition owned, used, or possessed by offenders may be confiscated by community corrections officers and turned over to the Washington state patrol for disposal, and offenders are subject to the appropriate violation process and sanctions (like arrest, offender disciplinary proceedings, suspension of community custody status) as well as arrest and prosecution for the weapons charges. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.045.

A person may file a voluntary waiver of their own firearm rights with the clerk of the court under Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.350. Once the waiver is documented by the court it is provided to the state police, who must enter the waiver into the national instant criminal background check system (NICS) and “any other federal or state computer-based systems used by law enforcement agencies or others to identify prohibited purchasers of firearms within twenty-four hours of receipt of the form.” A person may later revoke their waiver, but this can’t be done until at least seven days expire from the date the waiver was made, and the state police have an additional seven days in which to remove the person from the state database, NICS and any other computer-based systems the waiver was entered into. A voluntary waiver of firearm rights may not be required of an individual as a condition for receiving employment, benefits, or services.

It is a felony for a person to “deliver a firearm” to anyone the person has reasonable cause to believe is prohibited by state law from possessing a firearm, or has signed a valid voluntary waiver of firearm rights that has not been revoked. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.080.

It is a felony to possess (or manufacture, own, buy, sell, loan, furnish, transport, or have under control) any machine gun, bump-fire stock, undetectable firearm, short-barreled shotgun, or short-barreled rifle, or “any part designed and intended solely and exclusively for use in a machine gun, bump-fire stock, undetectable firearm, short-barreled shotgun, or short-barreled rifle, or in converting a weapon into a machine gun, short-barreled shotgun, or short-barreled rifle.”  This does not apply to: (1) law enforcement officer, or any officer or member of the armed forces of the United States or the state of Washington, in the discharge of official duty or traveling to or from official duty; (2) anyone exempt from or licensed under federal law and engaged in the production, manufacture, repair, or testing of machine guns, bump-fire stocks, short-barreled shotguns, or short-barreled rifles for use by the military, law enforcement, or for lawful export; or (3) a short-barreled rifle, or any part designed or intended solely and exclusively for use in a short-barreled rifle or in converting a weapon into a short-barreled rifle, if the person is in compliance with applicable federal law. It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution (not an exception) that a machine gun or short-barreled shotgun was acquired prior to July 1, 1994, and is possessed in compliance with federal law. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.190.

It is unlawful to carry, exhibit, display, or draw any firearm “in a manner, under circumstances, and at a time and place that either manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons.” This does not apply to law enforcement; any act committed by a person while in his or her place of abode or fixed place of business; a person acting for the purpose of protecting self or another against the use of presently threatened unlawful force; or a person engaged in military activities sponsored by the federal or state governments. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.270.

Carrying or placing a loaded handgun in any vehicle is prohibited unless the person has a license to carry concealed and (1) the handgun is on the licensee’s person, (2) the licensee is within the vehicle at all times that the handgun is there, or (3) the licensee is away from the vehicle and the handgun is locked in the vehicle and concealed from view from outside the vehicle. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.050(2)(a).

It is a crime to carry a firearm onto, or to possess a firearm on, public or private elementary or secondary school premises, school-provided transportation, or areas of facilities while being used exclusively by public or private schools. This includes air guns and stun guns. “Gun-free Zone” signs must be posted around school facilities giving warning of the prohibition. There are exceptions; these include: (1) any person involved in a convention, showing, demonstration, lecture, or firearms safety course authorized by school authorities in which the firearms of collectors or instructors are handled or displayed; (2) a person participating in a firearms or air gun competition approved by the school or school district; (3) a person in possession of a handgun and a valid Washington State carry license (or is exempt from the carry licensing requirement by Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.060) but only while picking up or dropping off a student and who does not enter a school building; (4) law enforcement or school district security personnel; (5) any nonstudent aged at least 18 and legally in possession of a firearm while conducting legitimate business at the school, if the gun is either secured within an attended vehicle or concealed from view within a locked unattended vehicle; or the unloaded firearm is secured in a vehicle. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.280.

It is unlawful for a person to carry a firearm onto, or to possess one at, a licensed child care center premises, child care center-provided transportation, or areas of facilities while being used exclusively by a child care center. (This prohibition also applies to stun guns, air guns, and any other dangerous weapon.) Child care centers must post “Gun-free Zone” signs giving warning of the prohibition. This ban does not apply to (1) “family day care provider homes” as defined in Wash. Rev. Code § 43.216.010 (a child care provider who regularly provides early childhood education and early learning services for not more than 12 children in the provider's home in the family living quarters); (2) any person with a handgun who has a valid Washington State carry license or is exempt from the carry licensing requirement by Wash. Rev. Code § RCW 9.41.060, but only while picking up or dropping off a child at the child care center; (3) any person at least 18 years old, legally in possession of a firearm or dangerous weapon that is secured within an attended vehicle or concealed from view within a locked unattended vehicle while conducting legitimate business at the child care center; or (4) any law enforcement officer of a federal, state, or local government agency. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.0003.

Other places where it is illegal to possess a firearm are listed in Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.300:

  • the restricted access areas of a jail, or of a law enforcement facility, or any place used for the confinement of arrestees;
  • posted areas in any building used in connection with court proceedings, including courtrooms, jury rooms, judge’s chambers, offices and areas used to conduct court business, waiting areas, and corridors adjacent to areas used in connection with court proceedings. The local legislative authority must provide either a stationary locked box sufficient in size for handguns and key to a weapon owner for weapon storage, or shall designate an official to receive weapons for safekeeping, during the owner’s visit to restricted areas of the building;
  • the restricted-access areas of a public mental health facility licensed or certified by the department of health for inpatient hospital care and state institutions for the care of the mentally ill, excluding facilities solely for evaluation and treatment, except an administrator or employee of the facility who has written permission from the administrator to possess a firearm on the premises;
  • any portion of an establishment classified by the state liquor and cannabis board as off-limits to persons under 21 years of age, except the proprietor of the premises or the employees while engaged in their employment;
  • the posted restricted-access areas of a commercial service airport designated in the airport security plan approved by the federal transportation security administration, including passenger screening checkpoints at or beyond the point at which a passenger initiates the screening process. These do not include airport drives, general parking areas and walkways, and shops and areas of the terminal that are outside the screening checkpoints and that are normally open to unscreened passengers or visitors to the airport.

The above “prohibited places” law does not apply to persons engaged in military activities or security personnel while on official duty, law enforcement officers, correctional personnel or community corrections officers (although an officer who is a party to a harassment or domestic violence proceeding cannot possess a firearm in any place used for court proceedings). A person with a valid Washington carry license may carry in a restricted access area of a jail or law enforcement facility provided he or she has prior written permission to possess the firearm from the facility administrator. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.300.

Wash. Rev. Code § 70.108.150 makes it a crime for any person except a law enforcement officer to carry, transport, or convey, or to have in his or her possession or under his or her control, any firearm while on the site of an outdoor music festival. “Outdoor music festival” is defined at § 70.108.020 as an event for outdoor, live or recorded musical entertainment where the predicted attendance is 2,000 persons or more and where the duration of the program is five hours or more, but not “any regularly established permanent place of worship, stadium, athletic field, arena, auditorium, coliseum, or other similar permanently established places of assembly for assemblies which do not exceed by more than 250 people the maximum seating capacity of the structure where the assembly is held” or “government sponsored fairs held on regularly established fairgrounds nor to assemblies required to be licensed under other laws or regulations of the state.”

Wash. Rev. Code § 9.94.043 makes it a crime to knowingly bring a firearm onto the premises of a state correctional institution (the buildings or adjacent grounds) where those have been posted with notices regarding the weapons ban. A person with a valid carry license may bring a handgun and check it immediately with the appropriate authority and reclaim it on leaving, but must immediately and directly depart from the premises.

State regulations impose additional restrictions on where firearms may lawfully be possessed. Firearms are prohibited at all facilities owned, leased, or operated by the office of administrative hearings and in rooms where the office of administrative hearings is conducting an administrative hearing, except for law enforcement and security personnel, or firearms “confined to private motor vehicles in parking areas at hearings facilities.” Notices that firearms are prohibited must be conspicuously posted in the waiting areas and included in any notices regarding the hearing. Wash. Admin. Code 10-20-010, 10-20-020.

Firearms are not permitted on the grounds of any horse racing association, except those of security personnel employed by the association and law enforcement officers. Wash. Admin. Code 260-20-075.

Another regulation, Wash. Admin. Code 200-200-470, states that firearms are prohibited on the state capitol grounds or in any building on the state capitol grounds, but this does not apply to (1) authorized law enforcement officers or any federal, state, and local government employee authorized to carry firearms in the course of their public employment, or (2) a person carrying a firearm “in accordance” with state law (concealed firearm with a valid carry license or open carry).  However, it appears firearms (open or concealed carry) and other weapons are prohibited in the Senate Gallery (see Gallery Rules, http://leg.wa.gov/Senate/Documents/Gallery%20Rules_Senate.pdf), and the House Gallery rules prohibit open-carry firearms (see House Rules at http://leg.wa.gov/House/Documents/HouseGalleryRules.pdf).

Firearms are prohibited at the Washington State School for the Blind and the Washington State School for the Deaf, except for law enforcement. Wash. Admin. Code 72-140-080(4) and 148-140-080(4).

Under a law enacted by initiative in 2019 (Initiative Measure No. 1639), by July 1, 2020 the Department of Licensing and state and local law enforcement agencies must “develop a cost-effective and efficient process” to “verify, on an annual or more frequent basis,” that persons who acquired handguns or “semiautomatic assault rifles” remain eligible to possess a firearm under state and federal law. If such persons are determined to be ineligible for any reason, the chief of police or the sheriff of the jurisdiction in which the person resides is notified and must “take steps to ensure such persons are not illegally in possession of firearms.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.139.

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Purchase and Transfer

Washington State has no laws requiring a license to purchase a firearm. It has no laws regulating sales or purchases of multiple guns, or regulating gun shows.

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State law requires that a dealer in firearms or ammunition be licensed under state law. Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.41.100, 9.41.110(1) to (3). A “dealer” means a person engaged in the business of selling firearms at wholesale or retail who has, or is required to have, a federal firearms license under 18 U.S.C. § 923(a). A person who does not have, and who is not required to have, a federal firearms license under that federal law is not a “dealer” if that person makes only occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or sells all or part of his or her personal collection of firearms. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.010(6).

Washington State has no law requiring a purchaser of a rifle or shotgun to first obtain a license or permit, and a local government is generally prohibited from requiring a purchaser to secure a permit to purchase or from requiring the dealer to secure an individual permit for firearm sales. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.110(12).

State law requires that private sales and “transfers” of firearms (those that don’t involve a federally licensed dealer as a party to the transaction) be “completed” through a licensed dealer. “Transfer” means more than just a transaction in which the ownership of a gun changes – it includes loans and other temporary changes in possession because “transfer” is defined as “the intended delivery of a firearm to another person without consideration of payment or promise of payment including, but not limited to, gifts and loans.” Unless the sale or “transfer” falls within one of the specific exceptions listed in the law, the transaction must be made through a federally licensed firearms dealer, who must conduct a background check and follow all other state and federal requirements that would apply if the dealer was selling or transferring the firearm from its own inventory. The dealer is authorized to charge a fee “that reflects the fair market value of the administrative costs and efforts incurred” for facilitating the sale or transfer. Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.41.113(1)-(3), 9.41.010(25).

The state background check law requires a dealer to wait until the result of the NICS background check is known or ten business days elapse from the date a background check was requested, whichever occurs first, although there are further requirements for transactions involving handguns or “semiautomatic assault rifles” (see below).

The exceptions to this background check law include:

  • “transfers” and sales of “antique” guns, as defined,
  • “bona fide” gifts and loans (but not sales) between specified “immediate family” members, and temporary transfers between spouses or domestic partners,
  • “transfers” to a federally licensed gunsmith if he or she “receives a gun solely for the purposes of service or repair,” and the return of the gun to its owner by the gunsmith,
  • temporary transfers that occur “at an established shooting range authorized by the governing body of the jurisdiction in which such range is located,” but only if the gun is kept at that range “at all times.” “Established shooting range authorized by the governing body of the jurisdiction” is not defined,
  • temporary transfers that occur while hunting if the recipient possesses the gun only in places where hunting is legal, has completed all training and has all licenses or permits required for such hunting, and is not otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms under state or federal law,
  • temporary transfers intended to prevent suicide or self-inflicted great bodily harm where the recipient does not use the firearm for any purpose and the transfer lasts only as long as “reasonably necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm,
  • temporary transfers “under circumstances in which the transferee and the firearm remain in the presence of the transferor,” and
  • executors and administrators of estates who acquire a gun through the operation of law, upon the death of the former owner (if the gun is a handgun, special rules apply – within 60 days, the handgun must be either lawfully transferred or the person must notify the state that he or she intends to retain the handgun).  

This is not a complete list – these and the other exceptions at Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.113 are specific and narrow in scope.

The private sale and transfer law applies to sales and “transfers” when any part of the transaction takes place in Washington State. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.122. The penalty for non-compliance with the sale and transfer law is a gross misdemeanor, but a second or subsequent violation is a felony – and a person is guilty of a separate offense for each and every gun sold or transferred without complying with the sale and transfer requirements. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.115.

Specific requirements apply to sales and transfers of handguns and “semiautomatic assault rifles.”

Handgun Sales & Transfers

No dealer may deliver a handgun unless the buyer produces a valid state concealed pistol license, or the dealer is notified by the chief of police or the sheriff of the jurisdiction where the buyer resides that the buyer is eligible to possess a handgun and that the application to purchase is approved, or the background check or wait period requirements in Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.092 have been met (successful background check or ten business days have elapsed since the date the NICS check was initiated; if the buyer does not have a valid permanent Washington driver's license or state ID card or has not been a resident of the state for the previous consecutive ninety days, the time period is 60 days).

Local law enforcement may place the handgun purchase “on hold” for an initial period of up to 30 days if the buyer is subject to open criminal charges or pending criminal proceedings, pending commitment proceedings, or an outstanding warrant. This period may be extended further by a court if good cause is shown. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.090(4), (5).

A person seeking to purchase a handgun must fill out and sign an application form in triplicate, listing personal information along with a description of the gun (make, model, caliber and manufacturer’s number). The dealer must, by the end of the business day, sign and attach his or her address and deliver a copy of the application form to the chief of police or the sheriff in the jurisdiction where the purchaser is a resident. The dealer must retain his or her copy of this form for six years. The buyer must be given a department of fish and wildlife pamphlet on the legal limits of the use of firearms, firearms safety, and two mandatory notices as indicated in Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.090(6)(b).

A signed application to purchase a handgun constitutes a waiver of confidentiality and is a deemed written request that the health care authority, mental health institutions, and other health care facilities release, to an inquiring court or law enforcement agency, information relevant to the person’s eligibility to purchase a handgun. A health care authority, mental health institution, and other health care facilities must, upon request of a court, a law enforcement agency, or the state, “supply such relevant information as is necessary to determine the eligibility of a person to possess a firearm or to be issued a concealed pistol license.” Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.41.094, 9.41.097.

A person under 21 years of age may not purchase a handgun. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.240(1).

The application “shall not be denied unless the purchaser is not eligible to purchase or possess the firearm under state or federal law.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.090(6)(c).

“Semiautomatic Assault Rifle” Sales & Transfers

Based on a ballot initiative in 2018, Washington State introduced additional restrictions on sales and transfers of so-called “semiautomatic assault rifles.” The law defines a “semiautomatic assault rifle” as “any rifle which utilizes a portion of the energy of a firing cartridge to extract the fired cartridge case and chamber the next round, and which requires a separate pull of the trigger to fire each cartridge,” but excluding an antique firearm, any firearm that has been made permanently inoperable, or any firearm that is manually operated by bolt, pump, lever, or slide action. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.010(27).

A person under 21 years of age may not purchase a “semiautomatic assault rifle,” and, subject to limited exceptions, no person may sell or transfer a “semiautomatic assault rifle” to a person under 21 years of age. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.240(1).

A dealer may not deliver a “semiautomatic assault rifle” to a buyer unless the buyer provides proof that he or she has completed a recognized firearm safety training program within the last five years that includes instruction on: basic firearms safety rules, firearms and children; firearms and suicide prevention; secure gun storage; safe handling of firearms; and firearm laws, including prohibited firearm transfers. 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 instructors certified by a nationally recognized organization that customarily offers firearms training. The proof of training must be in the form of a certification that states, under the penalty of perjury, that the training included the minimum requirements. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.090(2).

The buyer must fill out and sign an application form in triplicate, listing personal information along with a description of the gun (make, model, caliber and manufacturer’s number). The buyer must also either have the application to purchase approved by the chief of police or the sheriff of the jurisdiction where the buyer resides, or meet the background check or wait period requirements in Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.092 (successful background check or ten business days have elapsed since the date of the application to purchase or, in the case of a transfer, ten days have elapsed since the NICS check was initiated). Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.090(6)(a), (2)(b).

The dealer must, by the end of the business day, sign and attach his or her address and deliver a copy of the application form to the chief of police or the sheriff in the jurisdiction where the buyer is a resident. The dealer must retain his or her copy of this form for six years. The buyer must be given a department of fish and wildlife pamphlet on the legal limits of the use of firearms, firearms safety, and two mandatory notices as indicated in Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.090(6)(b).

A signed application to purchase a “semiautomatic assault rifle” constitutes a waiver of confidentiality and is deemed to be a written request that the health care authority, mental health institutions, and other health care facilities release, to an inquiring court or law enforcement agency, information relevant to the person’s eligibility to purchase a “semiautomatic assault rifle.” A health care authority, mental health institution, and other health care facilities must, upon request of a court, a law enforcement agency, or the state, “supply such relevant information as is necessary to determine the eligibility of a person to possess a firearm …” Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.41.094, 9.41.097.

Local law enforcement may place the rifle purchase “on hold” for an initial period of up to 30 days if the buyer is subject to open criminal charges or pending criminal proceedings, pending commitment proceedings, or an outstanding warrant. This period may be extended further by a court if good cause is shown. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.090(4), (5).

The ballot initiative also authorized a separate fee that the dealer has to charge the buyer or transferee of a “semiautomatic assault rifle.” The fee is $25, but may be increased. The fee is supposed to be no more than needed to cover the costs of local law enforcement and health care institutions’ state-mandated costs resulting from the reporting requirements imposed by the purchase and transfer law. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.090(7)(b).

The application to purchase “shall not be denied unless the purchaser is not eligible to purchase or possess the firearm under state or federal law.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.090(6)(c).

Washington State residents may purchase rifles and shotguns in a state other than Washington but when any part of the transaction takes place in Washington, “including, but not limited to, internet sales,” residents are subject to the procedures and background checks mandated by state law. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.122. Residents of a state other than Washington may purchase rifles and shotguns in Washington, except those firearms defined as “semiautomatic assault rifles.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.124.

Other Laws on Sales and Transfers

The copies of completed application forms of sales and transfers of handguns and “semiautomatic assault rifles” are kept by local law enforcement. Because of the state background check requirement for private sales and transfers (that such transactions must be made through a licensed dealer in almost all cases, as if the dealer was selling the firearm out of its own inventory), this means that records of private transfers are also provided to law enforcement. In addition, under Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.129, the state Department of Licensing is authorized to keep copies or records of applications to purchase or transfer handguns or “semiautomatic assault rifles,” as well as records related to concealed pistol licenses and alien firearm licenses.   

If an application for the sale or transfer of a firearm is denied after a background check or an application indicates the applicant is ineligible to possess a firearm under state or federal law, the dealer must report the denied application to the Washington association of sheriffs and police chiefs within five days of the denial. The reported information must include the identifying information of the applicant, the date of the application and denial, and other information. If the purchase or transfer is initially denied by the dealer as the result of a background check that indicates the applicant is ineligible to possess a firearm, but the purchase or transfer is subsequently approved, the dealer shall report the subsequent approval to the Washington association of sheriffs and police chiefs within one day of the approval. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.114.

Under a law enacted by initiative in 2019 (Initiative Measure No. 1639), by July 1, 2020 the Department of Licensing and state and local law enforcement agencies must “develop a cost-effective and efficient process” to “verify, on an annual or more frequent basis,” that persons who acquired handguns or “semiautomatic assault rifles” remain eligible to possess a firearm under state and federal law. If such persons are determined to be ineligible for any reason, the chief of police or the sheriff of the jurisdiction in which the person resides is notified and must “take steps to ensure such persons are not illegally in possession of firearms.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.139.

At least once every 12 months, the state Department of Licensing must obtain, from the ATF, a list of dealers licensed under federal law with business premises in the state of Washington. The Department must verify that these licensees are properly licensed by the State of Washington, and that they are registered with the state Department of Revenue. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.135.

Washington State’s Supreme Court has upheld the City of Seattle’s gun tax on firearms and ammunition sales, adopted in 2015. The local law imposed a $25 tax on guns sold in Seattle, and a tax of up to five cents per round of ammunition. The case is Watson v. Seattle, 189 Wash.2d 149 (Wash. 2017), at http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/937231.pdf.

In March 2020, Washington State passed legislation that authorizes the state to implement its own background check system rather than the partial “point of contact” system in effect, where the FBI conducts background checks for long guns, and handguns (only where the buyer has a state-issued carry permit), and the state does other handgun-related checks: http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2019-20/Pdf/Bills/Session%20Laws/House/2467-S2.SL.pdf. The new background check system would be operated by the Washington State Patrol and include a fee for each background check. 

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Carrying

It is a crime to carry a handgun concealed on the person without a license to carry a concealed weapon, although a person may carry concealed without a license in his or her place of abode or fixed place of business. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.050(1).

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The prohibition against carrying concealed without a concealed pistol license also does not apply to law enforcement officers, prison or jail wardens or their deputies, provided they have completed government-sponsored law enforcement firearms training and have been subject to a background check within the past five years; military personnel (including National Guard and reserves) when on duty; federal officials duly authorized to carry concealed; gun dealers in the usual or ordinary course of their business; regularly enrolled members of any organization authorized to purchase or receive handguns from the U.S.; regularly enrolled members of target shooting or collectors’ clubs when they are at or are going to or from ranges or collectors’ events; a person while carrying a handgun unloaded and in a closed opaque case or secure wrapper; a person engaging in a lawful outdoor recreational activity (hunting, fishing, camping, hiking) where it is reasonable to conclude that the person is participating in lawful outdoor activities or is traveling to or from an outdoor recreation area; and retired law enforcement officers with the appropriate documentation. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.060.

Open or concealed carry of a loaded handgun in a vehicle is not permitted without a concealed pistol license and (1) the handgun is on the licensee’s person, (2) the licensee is within the vehicle at all times that the handgun is there, or (3) the licensee is away from the vehicle and the handgun is locked within the vehicle and concealed from view from outside the vehicle. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.050(2)(a).

A person at least 18 years old in possession of an unloaded handgun cannot leave or store the gun in a vehicle unless the unloaded handgun is locked within the vehicle and concealed from view from outside the vehicle. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.050(3)(a). 

Loaded shotguns or rifles may not be carried, transported, or possessed inside a motor vehicle or an off-road vehicle, subject to any rules imposed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.    “Loaded” means the “rifle or shotgun contains shells or cartridges in the magazine or chamber, or is a muzzle-loading firearm that is loaded and capped or primed,” but a rifle or shotgun “shall not be considered loaded if the detachable clip or magazine is not inserted in or attached to the rifle or shotgun.” Wash. Rev. Code § 77.15.460(1), (5).

Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.270(1) prohibits carrying, exhibiting, displaying, or drawing any firearm “in a manner, under circumstances, and at a time and place that either manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons.” However, this prohibition does not apply to “any act committed by a person while in his or her place of abode or fixed place of business,” or any person acting to protecting himself or herself or another person against the use of presently threatened unlawful force by another individual. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.270(3).

In 2019, in the case of State v. Tarango, 7 Wash.App.2d 425, 433 (Wash. Ct. App. 2019), the Court of Appeals of Washington noted that “Washington is an ‘open carry’ state, meaning that it is legal in Washington to carry an unconcealed firearm unless the circumstances manifest an intent to intimidate another or warrant alarm for the safety of other person… Apart from the right to carry, legal restrictions on an individual’s possession of a firearm are imposed based on, e.g., the type of firearm; the individual’s age, criminal history, or mental illness; provisions of protective orders; and on the possession of weapons in certain locations…”  

For state law on firearm prohibited persons, age restrictions, and the possession of weapons in certain locations (including persons with a concealed pistol license), please refer to the section on “Possession,” above.  

The requirements for applying for a concealed pistol license are found in Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.070. The application must be made to the police chief or sheriff where the applicant resides, or any local law enforcement agency in the state for a non-resident applicant. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.070(13).

Washington is a “shall issue” state – a properly completed application may not be denied unless the applicant is ineligible by law to own or posses a firearm; is under 21 years of age; is free on bond or personal recognizance pending trial, appeal, or sentencing for a felony; has an outstanding arrest warrant for a felony or misdemeanor; is subject to an injunction, restraining order or domestic violence action requiring the surrender of firearms; has been ordered to forfeit a firearm under Section 9.41.098(1)(e) within one year of the application; or his or her existing license is in a revoked status.  Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.070.

The official shall issue the license within 30 days of the date of an application; however, if the applicant lacks a Washington State ID card or driver’s license, or has not been a resident of Washington State for the previous consecutive 90 days, the issuing authority has 60 days to process the application and issue a license. The issuing authority shall not refuse to accept completed applications for concealed pistol licenses during regular business hours. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.070(1).

The applicant must provide a complete set of fingerprints. If the applicant is not a United States citizen, the applicant must provide the applicant’s country of citizenship, United States-issued alien number or admission number, and the basis on which the applicant claims to be exempt from federal prohibitions on firearm possession by a non-citizen. A national instant criminal background check system (NICS) check must be done, as well as a check of the Washington state patrol electronic database, the health care authority electronic database, and with other agencies or resources “as appropriate.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.070(2), (4).

A signed application is a waiver of confidentiality and constitutes a written request that health care authorities, mental health institutions, and other health care facilities release information relevant to the applicant’s eligibility for a concealed pistol license to an inquiring court or law enforcement agency. Health care authorities, mental health institutions, and other health care facilities must supply such relevant information as is necessary to determine the eligibility of an applicant to be issued a concealed pistol license. Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.41.070(4), 9.41.097(1).

The original license is delivered to the licensee; a duplicate is sent to the director of licensing, and the triplicate is kept for six years by the law enforcement agency that issued the license.

Once issued, a license is valid for five years. A licensee may renew a license if the licensee applies for renewal within 90 days before or after the expiration date of the license, and the renewal takes effect on the expiration date of the prior license. A licensee renewing after the expiration date of the license must pay a late renewal penalty of $10 in addition to the renewal fee. There are special rules for a person who, as a member of the armed forces, including the national guard and armed forces reserves, is unable to renew their license in-state because of the person’s assignment, reassignment, or deployment for out-of-state military service. Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.41.070(5), (9)(a), (14), (15).

The fee for an original license is $36, plus additional FBI charges. The renewal fee is $32. No other additional charges by any branch or unit of government shall be borne by the applicant for the issuance or renewal of the license. A political subdivision shall not modify these requirements. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.070(5), (6).

The chief of police or the county sheriff of the applicant’s place of residence may issue a temporary emergency license “for good cause pending review” of a license application. A temporary emergency license does not exempt the holder of the license from any records check requirement. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.070(10).

A person who knowingly makes a false statement regarding citizenship or identity on an application for a concealed pistol license is liable to have any license issued to them revoked, may be prosecuted for the crime of false swearing under Wash. Rev. Code § 9A.72.040, and the person is “permanently ineligible for a concealed pistol license.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.070(12).

A concealed pistol license may be revoked for any of the reasons listed at Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.075(1) – for example, where the license was granted to an ineligible person, or the person has since had a conviction or commitment making the licensee ineligible to possess a firearm.  

The Department of Licensing must keep copies or records of applications for concealed pistol licenses and must make information received as part of an application available (in an online format) to law enforcement and corrections agencies. The copies and records are exempt from public inspection and copying and may not be disclosed except to law enforcement or corrections agencies. Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.41.070(4), 9.41.129.

Under a law enacted by initiative in 2019 (Initiative Measure No. 1639), by July 1, 2020 the Department of Licensing and state and local law enforcement agencies must “develop a cost-effective and efficient process” to “verify, on an annual or more frequent basis,” that persons who acquired handguns or “semiautomatic assault rifles” remain eligible to possess a firearm under state and federal law. If such persons are determined to be ineligible for any reason, the chief of police or the sheriff of the jurisdiction in which the person resides is to be notified and must “take steps to ensure such persons are not illegally in possession of firearms.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.139.

Washington State’s reciprocity law requires that, in order to be recognized by Washington State, the other jurisdiction’s licenses cannot be issued to persons under 21 years old, and that the issuing state must require mandatory fingerprint-based background checks of criminal and mental health history for all applicants for a concealed carry license. While in Washington State, a license holder from another state recognized by Washington State must carry the handgun in compliance with the laws of Washington State. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.073.

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Assault Weapons, Machine Guns, Magazines, Ammunition, etc.

Under a law enacted by ballot initiative (Initiative Measure No. 1639), as of 2019 new restrictions apply to the sale, transfer and possession of so-called “semiautomatic assault rifles.” A “semiautomatic assault rifle” means “any rifle which utilizes a portion of the energy of a firing cartridge to extract the fired cartridge case and chamber the next round, and which requires a separate pull of the trigger to fire each cartridge,” but excluding an antique firearm, any firearm that has been made permanently inoperable, or any firearm that is manually operated by bolt, pump, lever, or slide action. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.010(27).

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A person under 21 years of age may not purchase a “semiautomatic assault rifle,” and, subject to limited exceptions, no person may sell or transfer a “semiautomatic assault rifle” to a person under 21 years old. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.240(1).

In addition, a firearm dealer may not sell or transfer a “semiautomatic assault rifle” unless the buyer or transferee provides proof that he or she has completed a firearm safety training program within the last five years based that meets state requirements. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.090(2).

The ballot initiative also authorized a separate fee that the dealer has to charge a buyer or transferee of a “semiautomatic assault rifle.” The fee is $25, but may be increased. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.090(7)(b).

Based on Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.240, a person aged at least 18 but under 21 years of age may possess a “semiautomatic assault rifle” only:

  • in the person’s place of abode, their fixed place of business, or on real property under the person’s control;
  • for the specific purpose of (i) moving to a new place of abode; (ii) traveling between the person’s place of abode and real property under his or her control; or (iii) lawfully selling or transferring the firearm, but in all these cases, the gun must be unloaded and either in secure gun storage or secured with a trigger lock or similar device that is designed to prevent the unauthorized use or discharge;
  • “in the places and situations identified in” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.042 (1) through (9) and 9.41.060 (1) through (10). These list activities like engaging in practice in the use of a firearm or target shooting at an established range or any other area where the discharge of a firearm is not prohibited; engaging in an organized competition; hunting or trapping under a valid license; acting as a member of the armed forces of the United States, national guard, or organized reserves, when on duty; and others.

Washington State residents may purchase rifles in a state other than Washington but, when any part of the transaction takes place in Washington, “including, but not limited to, internet sales,” residents are subject to the procedures mandated by Washington State law, including restrictions on “semiautomatic assault rifle” sales and transfers. Residents of a state other than Washington may purchase rifles and shotguns in Washington, except “semiautomatic assault rifles.” Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.41.122, 9.41.124.

Machine Guns. A “machine gun” is defined as any firearm “known as a machine gun, mechanical rifle, submachine gun, or any other mechanism or instrument not requiring that the trigger be pressed for each shot and having a reservoir clip, disc, drum, belt, or other separable mechanical device for storing, carrying, or supplying ammunition which can be loaded into the firearm, mechanism, or instrument, and fired therefrom at the rate of five or more shots per second.”

It is unlawful to manufacture, own, buy, sell, loan, furnish, transport, or have in possession or under control, any machine gun or any part designed and intended solely and exclusively for use in a machine gun, or to assemble or repair any machine gun. Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.41.190(1), 9.41.010(19) (definition).

The “machine gun” prohibition does not apply to peace officers and members of the military when on duty or traveling to or from official duty; and any person exempt from or licensed under federal law and engaged in the production, manufacture, repair, or testing of machine guns for use by the armed forces, law enforcement or for lawful export. It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution under this law (and not an exemption to the law) that the machine gun was acquired prior to July 1, 1994, and is possessed in compliance with federal law. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.190(3), (4).

All machine guns (or any part designed and intended solely and exclusively for use in a machine gun) illegally held or illegally possessed are contraband, and liable to seizure by law enforcement “wherever and whenever found.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.220.

Magazines. Washington State does not regulate “large capacity” magazines.

Ammunition. Washington State does not regulate ammunition by type or properties. The explosives law requires that “small arms ammunition” be separated from flammable liquids, flammable solids and oxidizing materials by a fire-resistant wall of one-hour rating or by a distance of 25 feet. “Small arms ammunition” means any “shotgun, rifle, pistol, or revolver cartridge, and cartridges for propellant-actuated power devices and industrial guns. Military-type ammunition containing explosive bursting charges, incendiary, tracer, spotting, or pyrotechnic projectiles is excluded from this definition.” Wash. Rev. Code §§ 70.74.330, 70.74.010(28) (definition).

Other restrictions apply to transport and storage of “small arms ammunition primers” (“small percussion-sensitive explosive charges encased in a cup, used to ignite propellant powder and shall include percussion caps as used in muzzle loaders”), Wash. Rev. Code §§ 70.74.350, 70.74.010(29) (definition); and black powder used in muzzle loading firearms and smokeless propellants; §§ 70.74.340, and 70.74.010(13) and (30) (definitions of handloader components and “smokeless powder”).

Short-barreled Guns, Bump Stocks, “Undetectable” and “Untraceable” Guns. State law makes it a felony to make, repair, own, buy, sell, loan, furnish, transport, or have in possession or under a person’s control any bump-fire stock, undetectable firearm, short-barreled shotgun, or short-barreled rifle,” or any part designed and intended solely and exclusively for use in a bump-fire stock, undetectable firearm, short-barreled shotgun, or short-barreled rifle, or used to convert a weapon into a short-barreled shotgun, or short-barreled rifle.

It is a felony to manufacture an “untraceable firearm” with the intent to sell it. An “untraceable firearm” means any firearm manufactured after July 1, 2019, that is not an antique firearm and that cannot be traced by law enforcement by means of a serial number affixed to the firearm by a federally licensed manufacturer or importer. Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.41.190(1); 9.41.010(35) (definition).

There is a general exemption from this law for peace officers and members of the military when on duty or traveling to or from official duty; and any person exempt from or licensed under federal law and engaged in the production, manufacture, repair, or testing of machine guns for use by the armed forces, law enforcement or for lawful export. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.190(3).

In addition, the prohibitions on short-barreled rifles and parts do not apply to a person in compliance with applicable federal law. For short-barreled shotguns, there is no similar exemption but it is an affirmative defense to a prosecution that the short-barreled shotgun was acquired prior to July 1, 1994, and is possessed in compliance with federal law. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.190(2), (4).

A separate law makes it a crime to knowingly or recklessly allow or assist in the making or assembling of an undetectable firearm or untraceable firearm by a person who is either prohibited under state or federal law from possessing a firearm or has signed a valid voluntary waiver of firearm rights that remains in effect. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.325.

A “bump-fire stock” means “a butt stock designed to be attached to a semiautomatic firearm with the effect of increasing the rate of fire achievable with the semiautomatic firearm to that of a fully automatic firearm by using the energy from the recoil of the firearm to generate reciprocating action that facilitates repeated activation of the trigger.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.010(3).

A “short-barreled rifle” means “a rifle having one or more barrels less than 16 inches in length and any weapon made from a rifle by any means of modification if such modified weapon has an overall length of less than 26 inches.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.010(29) (“rifle” is defined at § 9.41.010(24)).

A “short-barreled shotgun” means “a shotgun having one or more barrels less than 18 inches in length and any weapon made from a shotgun by any means of modification if such modified weapon has an overall length of less than 26 inches.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.010(30) (“shotgun” is defined at § 9.41.010(31)).

“Undetectable firearm” means any “firearm that is not as detectable as 3.7 ounces of 17-4 PH stainless steel by walk-through metal detectors or magnetometers commonly used at airports or any firearm where the barrel, the slide or cylinder, or the frame or receiver of the firearm would not generate an image that accurately depicts the shape of the part when examined by the types of X-ray machines commonly used at airports.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.010(33).

All bump-fire stocks, undetectable firearms, short-barreled shotguns, or short-barreled rifles, or any part designed and intended solely and exclusively for use in a short-barreled shotgun or short-barreled rifle, or in converting a weapon into a short-barreled shotgun or short-barreled rifle, illegally held or illegally possessed are contraband and liable to liable to seizure by law enforcement “wherever and whenever found.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.220.

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"Safe Storage" Laws

Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.360, imposed as a result of a ballot initiative and effective in July 2019, creates the crimes of “community endangerment” due to storage of a firearm.

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A person commits the felony crime of first degree “community endangerment” when he or she stores or leaves a firearm in a location where the person knows, or reasonably should know, that a “prohibited person” may gain access to the firearm, and a prohibited person does obtain possession of the gun and causes personal injury or death. (A “prohibited person” is defined as a person who is prohibited from possessing a firearm under state or federal law, including minors; see the “Possession” section above.) Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.360(1)(a).

A person commits the second degree “community endangerment” crime (a gross misdemeanor) when he or she stores or leaves a firearm in a location where the person knows, or reasonably should know, that a “prohibited person” may gain access to the firearm, and a prohibited person does obtain possession of the gun and causes the firearm to discharge, or carries or displays the firearm in a public place in a way that manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons, or uses the gun to commit a crime (note that possession of a firearm by a “prohibited person” is automatically a crime under state law; see Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.040). Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.360(1)(b). Both these crimes apply to a broader class than just the gun owner: the law refers to “a person” who stores or leaves a gun in violation of this section.  

The “community endangerment” crimes do not apply if (1) the gun was in secure gun storage or secured with a trigger lock or similar device, or (2) the prohibited person obtains or uses the firearm in a lawful act of self-defense, or (3) obtains the gun through an act of unlawful entry (but this exception applies only if the unauthorized access or gun theft is reported to local law enforcement within five days of the time the access or theft occurred or the custodian of the gun should have realized it occurred), or (4) the “prohibited person” is a minor prohibited due to age but access to the firearm occurs with the lawful permission of a parent or guardian and the minor supervised by an adult, or the minor is under 18 and the possession is compliant with the activities listed in Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.042 (including hunter's safety course or a firearms safety course, target shooting at an established range, hunting or trapping under a valid license, on real property under the control of a parent, other relative, or legal guardian and with permission). Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.360(3).  

Firearm dealers when selling or transferring any firearm, must offer to sell or give the purchaser or transferee a secure gun storage device, or a trigger lock or similar device. All dealers must “conspicuously post, in a prominent location” in the premises a sign that reads: “WARNING: You may face criminal prosecution if you store or leave an unsecured firearm where a person who is prohibited from possessing firearms can and does obtain possession.” Dealers must also provide the same notice in writing to a purchaser or transferee of a firearm. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.365

For the purposes of the above laws, “secure gun storage” means (a) a locked box, gun safe, or other secure locked storage space that is designed to prevent unauthorized use or discharge of a firearm; and (b) the act of keeping an unloaded firearm stored by such means.

In October 2019, a Snohomish County Superior Court judge ruled that a City of Edmonds ordinance requiring “safe storage” of firearms violated the state’s firearm preemption law. That decision has been appealed.

 

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Preemption

The state firearm preemption law is Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.290.

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This section reads:

The state of Washington hereby fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state, including the registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation of firearms, or any other element relating to firearms or parts thereof, including ammunition and reloader components. Cities, towns, and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to firearms that are specifically authorized by state law, as in RCW 9.41.300, and are consistent with this chapter. Such local ordinances shall have the same penalty as provided for by state law. Local laws and ordinances that are inconsistent with, more restrictive than, or exceed the requirements of state law shall not be enacted and are preempted and repealed, regardless of the nature of the code, charter, or home rule status of such city, town, county, or municipality.

A separate law, Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.110(12), prohibits a city, town, and political subdivision “from requiring the purchaser to secure a permit to purchase or from requiring the dealer to secure an individual permit for each sale.”  

The “specifically authorized” exceptions in Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.300(2) and (3) allow local governments to enact ordinances that:

  • restrict the discharge of firearms “in any portion of their respective jurisdictions where there is a reasonable likelihood that humans, domestic animals, or property will be jeopardized,” although any such law cannot abridge the right to bear arms in defense of self or others, as guaranteed by the state constitution;
  • restrict the possession of firearms in any stadium or convention center operated by a city, town, county, or other municipality, except that such restrictions cannot apply to a handgun possessed by a person with a state concealed weapons license or who is exempt from the licensing requirement by law, or to any “showing, demonstration, or lecture involving the exhibition of firearms;”
  • restrict the zones in their respective jurisdictions in which firearms may be sold. A business selling firearms cannot be treated more restrictively than other businesses located within the same zone, although the local government may limit the locations to not less than 500 feet from primary or secondary school grounds, if the business has a storefront, has hours during which it is open for business, and posts advertisements or signs observable to passersby that firearms are available for sale. A business selling firearms that exists as of the date a restriction is enacted must be grandfathered according to existing law, and an ordinance requiring the cessation of business within a zone cannot have a shorter grandfather period for businesses selling guns than for any other businesses within the zone.

A state court has ruled that the preemption law does not prohibit a municipality or other political subdivision from regulating or prohibiting firearm possession by its own employees while at the workplace, based on Cherry v. Municipality of Metro. Seattle, 808 P.2d 746, 748 (Wash. 1991) (transit employee disciplined for violating city policy prohibiting employees from possessing concealed weapons while on duty or on Metro property; city policy upheld on basis that state preemption law “does not address internal employment rules limiting on-duty possession of firearms by public employees in the workplace”).

In Watson v. Seattle, 189 Wash.2d 149 (Wash. 2017), Washington State’s Supreme Court upheld the City of Seattle’s gun tax on firearms and ammunition sales, adopted in 2015, in a challenge under the preemption law. The local law imposed a $25 tax on guns sold in Seattle, and a tax of up to five cents per round of ammunition, with the revenue generated  segregated into a “Firearms and Ammunition Tax Fund.” The court held that the ordinance was a tax, rather than a regulatory fee, and as a tax it was authorized under a state law allowing Seattle to impose excise taxes on retailers as a condition of doing business in the city. “RCW 9.41.290 does not expressly or impliedly preempt taxation.”

Another preemption law, Wash. Rev. Code § 9.91.160(2), states that no town, city, county, special purpose district, quasi-municipal corporation or other unit of government may prohibit a person 18 years old or older (or a person 14 years old or older who has the permission of a parent or guardian to do so) from purchasing or possessing a personal protection spray device or from using such a device in a manner consistent with the authorized use of force under state law. No town, city, county, special purpose district, quasi-municipal corporation, or other unit of government may prohibit a person 18 years old or older from delivering a personal protection spray device to a person authorized to possess such a device. A “personal protection spray device” in this law is defined as “a commercially available dispensing device designed and intended for use in self-defense and containing a nonlethal sternutator or lacrimator agent, including but not limited to” tear gas or other agent commonly known as mace, pepper mace, or pepper gas.

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Restoration of Rights

Washington State has a process to allow restoration of firearm rights for persons under a mental health-based firearm disability. Gun rights lost due to criminal convictions may be restored by application to a court or by pardon.

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Firearm disability arising from mental health adjudication, commitment. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.047(3) allows any person who is prohibited from possessing a firearm by reason of having been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment in Washington State or the equivalent statutes of another jurisdiction, or by reason of having been detained for emergency mental health treatment in Washington State (under Wash. Rev. Code §§ 71.05.150 or 71.05.153), or because the person's charges were dismissed in Washington State based on incompetency to stand trial and the court made a finding that the person has a history of one or more violent acts, may, upon discharge, petition the superior court to have his or her firearm rights restored.

The petition must be brought in the superior court that ordered the involuntary commitment or dismissed the charges based on incompetency to stand trial, or the superior court of the county in which the person resides.

Except as mentioned below, the court must restore the petitioner’s right to possess a firearm if the petitioner proves by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she:

1. is no longer required to participate in court-ordered inpatient or outpatient treatment;

2. has successfully managed the condition related to the commitment or detention or incompetency;

3. no longer presents a substantial danger to himself or herself, or the public; and

4. the symptoms related to the commitment or detention or incompetency are not reasonably likely to recur.

However, if the petitioner seeks restoration after having been detained under Wash. Rev. Code §§ 71.05.150 or 71.05.153, the state has the burden of proof to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the petitioner does not meet factors #1-4 listed above. Also, where a preponderance of the evidence in the record supports a finding that the person petitioning the court has engaged in violence and that it is more likely than not that the person will engage in violence after his or her right to possess a firearm is restored, the person has the burden of proving by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that he or she does not present a substantial danger to the safety of others.

A person who has been convicted/found not guilty by reason of insanity is subject to special rules. He or she may petition a court for restoration only if the person meets the requirements for the restoration of rights under Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.040(4) (certain offenses ineligible and requirements include: expiry of minimum time periods before being eligible for restoration, no prior felony convictions and not currently charged with any felony, gross misdemeanor, or misdemeanor crimes).

When a person’s right to possess a firearm has been restored, the court must send notice of the restoration, within three judicial days after entry of the restoration order, to the department of licensing and the national instant criminal background check system index, denied persons file. In the case of a person whose right to possess a firearm has been suspended for six months due to a 72-hour mental health detention, the department of licensing must forward notification of the restoration order to the licensing authority, which must immediately lift the suspension, restoring the person’s pistol license.

Firearm disability arising from criminal conviction. Under state law, any person who has been convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity in Washington State or elsewhere of any “serious offense” or other felony is prohibited from possessing a firearm. A “serious offense” means any of the felonies, or a felony attempt to commit, any of the crimes listed at Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.010(28). Other offenses where a conviction or being found not guilty by reason of insanity result in a loss of firearm rights include certain domestic violence offenses (harassment after June 7, 2018; and any of the following after July 1993: assault in the fourth degree, coercion, stalking, reckless endangerment, criminal trespass in the first degree, or violation of the provisions of a protection order or no-contact order or excluding the person from a residence); see Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.040(1) and (2).

Washington State includes, in the definition of “conviction,” an adjudication in a juvenile court, and a dismissal entered after a period of probation, suspension, or deferral of sentence. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.040(3).

The right to possess a firearm may be restored if “the conviction has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, certificate of rehabilitation, or other equivalent procedure based on a finding of the rehabilitation of the person convicted or the conviction or disposition has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, or other equivalent procedure based on a finding of innocence.” Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.040(3).

A person may apply to a Washington court for a restoration of rights based on the process at Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.040(4). Offenses that are not eligible include murder, manslaughter, robbery, rape, indecent liberties, arson, assault, kidnapping, extortion, burglary, and specific violations of controlled substances laws. Eligible felony offenders must wait five years before applying, during which time they cannot have been convicted/found not guilty by reason of insanity or currently charged with any new felony, gross misdemeanor, or misdemeanor crime. Misdemeanants have a three-year wait period. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.040(4)(a)(ii).

The application must be made to the court of record that ordered the petitioner’s prohibition on possession of a firearm, or to the superior court in the county in which the petitioner resides.

For offenders who do not qualify under the restoration by court order process, a pardon may restore firearm rights.

This is a complex area; we recommend you consult an attorney for advice regarding any specific case.

For general information on restoration of rights, see the state website on pardons, https://www.governor.wa.gov/boards-commissions/clemency-pardons-board, and the federal and relevant state law page at https://ccresourcecenter.org/restoration

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Range Protection

As of June 2020, there is no law in effect to protect shooting ranges.

Hawaii and Washington are the only two states without a range protection law. A proposed law,  HB 1508 (2012), would have ensured that existing ranges are protected against civil liability and criminal charges related to noise pollution, and benefitted the public-at-large by providing gun owners with safe places to shoot. The bill, however, was not enacted.  

Miscellaneous

It is unlawful to change, alter, remove, or obliterate the name of the maker, model, manufacturer’s number, or other mark of identification on any firearm. Possession of a firearm with its marks altered creates a legal presumption that the possessor committed the offense. This section does not apply if the changes do not make the firearm illegal for the person to possess under state or federal law, or to replacement barrels in old firearms, where the replacement is produced by current manufacturers and does not have the barrel markings of the original manufacturers no longer in business. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.140.

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It is unlawful to set a spring gun, but this does not preclude the setting of “coyote getters” or similar spring-triggered shell devices authorized by the state department of agriculture or the state department of fish and wildlife. Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.41.230(1)(c), 9.41.185.

It is unlawful to negligently discharge a firearm from, across, or along the maintained portion of a public highway, or discharge a firearm from within a moving motor vehicle or from upon a moving off-road vehicle. This does not apply to a law enforcement officer while on duty; a person granted a disability designation and who complies with all rules of the fish and wildlife department on hunting by persons with disabilities; or a person who shoots a rifle or shotgun from upon a nonmoving motor vehicle with the engine is turned off and not parked on or beside the maintained portion of a public road, except for off-road vehicles unlawful to use for hunting. Wash. Rev. Code § 77.15.460(2), (4).

During a declared state of emergency, the governor may issue an order prohibiting “the sale, purchase or dispensing of other commodities or goods, as he or she reasonably believes should be prohibited to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace​” and prohibit “such other activities as he or she reasonably believes should be prohibited to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace​.” Wash. Rev. Code § 43.06.220​.

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Washington NEWS
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Washington State Firearm Confiscation Law Found Unconstitutional

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NRA ILA

Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.