I-591 Does Not Weaken Current State Gun Laws

A quick note regarding I-591, in particular its provision prohibiting state agencies from requiring a background check on the recipient of a firearm unless a “uniform national standard” is required.

Those against I-591 have latched on to this provision, in part, on the belief that should it pass, I-591 would “roll back Washington’s existing–and already inadequate– background check laws to conform to weak federal standards,” as the argument in the Washington State voter’s pamphlet goes.

This is a specious argument to make at best. While I-591 would certainly require a “national standard” for background checks that apply equally to a Washingtonian as it does an Iowan (as the federal Brady Act does, for instance), what it does not do is affect current state law regarding background checks, because there is no language in I-591 that does so.

There are only two operative sections of I-591, neither of which amend, repeal, or otherwise modify any preexisting section of state law pertaining to background checks. You’ll notice in the verbiage of the initiative, it states that the first two sections are “added” to chapter 9.41 RCW, meaning that, if passed, the two new sections would complement, not alter, current state law. Language for I-594 does indeed use “amend” throughout its various sections, indicting that there is something provided for under current state law that I-594 seeks to change. This distinction is subtle, but important: I-591 restricts future government actions, not those the state is legally empowered to do now.

A “uniform national standard” is necessary, not only from a standpoint of basic fairness–i.e. why should I be treated differently in Washington from a citizen of another state in an activity protected for all by the Second Amendment?–but also because, as proponents of I-591 state in their own pamphlet argument: “…criminals cross state lines”. Indeed. If a malefactor intent upon purchasing a gun finds Washington’s laws burdensome, there is little stopping them from seeking a path of least resistance elsewhere.

Gun sales and ownership isn’t some peripheral activity enjoyed or experienced by residents of some states and not others. It is a long standing and cherished practice partaken of residents of all 50 states, one woven into our national character. It behooves Washington to place their citizens on an equitable playing field with residents of other states.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that under the “Fiscal Impact Statement” for I-591 (page 18 of the voter’s pamphlet), the state’s own Office of Financial Management states quite bluntly that “current state law regarding a background check on the recipient of a firearm would remain in effect.” If the state itself says I-591 has no effect on current law, where are the initiative’s opponents getting this “roll back” idea from?

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About Michael Haugen

Michael Haugen is a full-spectrum conservative and recent graduate from Eastern Washington University (BS Biology). His main interests in politics and public policy center around health care, education and tax reform. He'll be returning to EWU in 2014 to complete a Master's degree in Public Administration. Follow him on Twitter: @HaugenTRA

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