Calling the system “fragmented,” a review by the state Attorney General’s Office recommends improvements in how the state conducts background checks on gun buyers.
Released Monday, the report comes in response to an executive order issued by Gov. Jay Inslee in January intended to reduce gun-related deaths and violence in the state.
The report describes flaws in how Washington conducts gun-purchase background checks. People buying so-called long guns such as rifles get checked through a federal government database.
But in Washington, those buying pistols or applying for concealed-carry licenses are checked through one of the state’s 260 local sheriff’s offices or police departments, according to the report.
Those local agencies must then check databases of local mental health agencies, the Washington State Patrol and the state Department of Social and Health Services to make sure the potential buyer doesn’t have a disqualifying factor.
“Washington’s firearms background check system is fragmented,” according to the report.
The current system “creates confusion for dealers, purchasers, gun owners and law enforcement in Washington,” the report adds later. “Reliance on multiple local law enforcement agencies to conduct background checks creates the potential for inconsistent practices and may tax the resources of small local agencies.”
As one solution, the report recommends Washington state build its own centralized background-check system. That would allow background checks to go through a single state system, rather than requiring different agencies to be involved, according to the report.
Dave Workman, of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, however, described that proposal as “hinting at establishing some kind of a state firearms registry here.”
“Gun registration, even backdoor gun registration, is toxic with firearms owners,” said Workman, a spokesman for the Bellevue-based organization.
Among other things, the report calls for a better process of alerting law enforcement when potential gun buyers have been denied a purchase. In some cases, those buyers could face state criminal charges, according to the report.
The report also proposes the state adopt criminal penalties for gun owners who fail to secure a firearm that is later accessed by a minor. Currently, 28 states have laws meant to prevent children from accessing guns, according to the report.
Additionally, the report calls for better data-sharing and stronger laws to prevent some people with mental-health issues gaining access to firearms.
In an email, Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee wrote that the governor’s office is still reviewing the report.
But, “We know there are gaps in the system, that’s why we asked the AG’s office to issue their report,” Lee wrote. “No question that more needs to be done either through legislation or other actions.”