An assault weapon belonging to the Washington State Patrol is missing, and the patrol's efforts to recover it have drawn the wrath of local gun dealers and gun-rights advocates.
The controversy stems from a March 9 letter sent by the patrol to every licensed gun dealer in Washington requesting that they provide documents related to any sales of AR-15 semiautomatic rifles after July 2010 – including “names, date of births, addresses, phone numbers, date of transaction and serial number from the purchaser.”
The letter asks the dealers to “Please provide the following information,” then lists the specific documents requested.
State Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins said Wednesday that the letter should have more clearly stated that the patrol was “requesting” and not demanding the documents. Gun dealers are not legally obligated to comply with the patrol’s request or respond to the letter.
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said Wednesday that he was going to deliver a protest letter signed by about 36 representatives and state senators to Gov. Christine Gregoire, State Patrol Chief John Batiste and other state officials.
Seeking identities of assault weapon owners was unreasonable and sets a bad precedent Shea said. He added that his constituents feared the patrol was trying to compile a registry of assault weapon owners. He said he has received countless calls from constituents and gun-rights advocates.
The letter sent to Chief Batiste states, “This appears to be a massive fishing expedition reminiscent of colonial era ‘general warrants’ in disregard of the constraints imposed by the Constitutions of the United States and Washington State.”
Calkins emphasized that the patrol is not trying to create a registry. He was tight-lipped about the criminal investigation into the missing gun and would not say when or from where it turned up missing. He said the patrol did not release the gun’s serial number because it might have been broken down and sold for parts, and individual parts might not have a serial number.
The gun was discovered missing during a recent inventory of State Patrol firearms, Calkins said.
“This is a gun we want back,” Calkins said. “If gun dealers have had an odd transaction involving an AR-15 or a part of an AR-15, then we’d like a call.”
Licensed gun dealers in Olympia who received the patrol’s letter said complying with the request would be difficult, given the sheer number of hours it would take to compile all the documents of sales of AR-15s over the past year.
Michael Werb, an employee of J&S Gun Parts in Olympia, said it would have been much more practical for the patrol to have given dealers the missing gun’s serial number.
Werb called the patrol’s information request unreasonable and said he doesn’t think anyone at J&S has complied.
Jeff Hursh, the owner of Cascade Arms in Olympia, said he wasn’t particularly upset about the patrol’s request but he added it was not practical for him to comply, given its scope.
“As far as the industry goes, no one wants to see a stolen firearm out there,” he said. “But there’s definitely a better way to go about getting the information.”
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465, firstname.lastname@example.org