Concealed pistol law can present confusing issues

February 10, 2013 

Some questions and answers about Washington state’s process for getting a concealed pistol permit:

Question: How does the law define “pistol”?

Answer: Here’s how RCW 9.41.010 puts it: “‘Pistol’ means any firearm with a barrel less than 16 inches in length, or is designed to be held and fired by the use of a single hand.”

Q. Who issues concealed pistol licenses?

A. The chief of police or sheriff in the jurisdiction where you live.

Q. What does a license cost?

A. The permit fee is $55.25.

Q. How long are licenses good for?

A. Five years.

Q. Do I have to show that I know how to load my gun or shoot it to get a concealed permit?

A. No. Washington is one of three states with no training or proficiency requirements.

Q. How does Washington compare with other states in terms of percentages of people who legally carry concealed weapons?

A. We’re on the high end. According to the federal Government Accounting Office, about 7.1 percent of adults here have permits. Four states don’t require permits, so no numbers are available for them. Of the others, we rank eighth highest. Utah has the highest percentage of concealed carry permits with 19.3 percent.

Q. Where can you take your pistol if you have a concealed pistol license?

A. It’s easier to say where you can’t take it. State law prohibits the possession of a weapon, concealed or not, in restricted access areas of jails; areas used in connection with court proceedings; restricted access areas of mental health facilities; places classified by the liquor control as off-limits to persons younger than 21; restricted access areas of airports and public or private elementary and secondary schools. Cities also might have ordinances, in keeping with state law, that prohibit firearm possession.

Q. Doesn’t the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms” require jurisdictions to issue a concealed pistol license to just about anybody who wants one?

A. You’ll get different arguments on that one, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit says no. When it addressed the question in November the court decided New York’s requirement that applicants show “a special need for self-protection” doesn’t violate the Second Amendment. In Kachalsky v. Cacace, the court said a requirement to show need is substantially related to the government’s interests in preventing crime and guaranteeing public safety.

Q. If you have a license, is it legal to carry a pistol with a cartridge in the chamber?

A. Yes.

Q. Can I find out who in my neighborhood has a concealed pistol license?

A. Not in this state. The law restricts release of specific personal information about the licenses to law enforcement, corrections and the courts.

Q. If I don’t have a concealed pistol permit, and I buy a gun, do I have to register it?

A. Guns don’t have to be registered in Washington. If you buy a pistol from a dealer you have to fill out an application to determine if you’re eligible. If you buy a pistol from a private party, there’s no such requirement. There are no state licensing requirements for purchases of rifles and shotguns.

Q. Can a request for a concealed pistol license be denied? And if so, on what grounds?

A. Yes, requests can be denied. Applicants must pass criminal and mental health background checks. You can’t have a pending trial, outstanding warrants, court orders against possessing a firearm, felony convictions or any of a number of different domestic violence convictions, including fourth-degree assault, coercion, stalking, reckless endangerment, criminal trespass or violations of protection or no-contact orders. You’ll be turned down if you’ve been involuntarily committed to a mental institution for at least 14 days or have had a less restrictive 90-day treatment order.

Q. After I fill out my application, what happens during the 30-day waiting period?

A. The state does a background check on you, which includes a check through the national instant criminal background check system, the Washington State Patrol electronic database and the Washington Department of Social and Health Services database for a mental health check.


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