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No on I-594: Don’t turn neighbors into accidental criminals

Would you vote for a law that would make criminals of half your neighbors? Initiative 594 would do exactly that.

In their zeal to impose "universal background checks," the creators of I-594 have written a law that would require nearly all “transfers” of firearms to be conducted at the premises of a Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer.

I-594 defines transfers as a change of possession, no matter how temporary, including gifts and loans. There are exceptions for family gifts, organized competitions and youth activities, but they are so narrow that most recreational, non-sale transfers would be crimes.

The father who loans a hunting rifle to an adult son during hunting season would commit a misdemeanor (upon the first violation). When the rifle is returned, both father and son would be two-time offenders, and thus felons under I-594.

Shooting buddies who met on public land or their own property to target practice with shared firearms would violate I-594. Routine gun repairs would also be criminalized. The initiative would effectively forbid you from dropping your firearm off with a gunsmith friend unless he had a federal license. Most gunsmiths in this state, often the most skilled, lack federal licenses.

Women are targeted by several provisions. Instructors could no longer provide loaner firearms during introductory women's self-defense classes. And if your sister were being stalked and in fear of her life, and you loaned her a firearm, you would both be criminals. I-594 has an exception to "prevent imminent death," but the legal definition of imminent means "about to happen."

Widows and heirs beware: If your spouse died and you found a couple of handguns in your husband's sock drawer 61 days after death, then you’d be an accidental felon.

I-594 only allows you 60 days to register those guns; after that, they’d become contraband. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and intent to commit a crime is not an element written into 594. Why write a law that makes inheritance of grandpa's old guns a crime?

Colorado passed a law in 2013 requiring universal background checks, but the Colorado law includes exceptions for temporary transfers without change of ownership, transfers while hunting or target shooting, transfers for gun repairs and loans for 72 hours. The transfer fee is capped at a reasonable $10 (fees are unlimited in I-594).

If only I-594 were that reasonable. Failure to complete the Colorado paperwork is a misdemeanor, whereas I-594 makes the first offense a gross misdemeanor and the second a Class C felony.

I urge you to follow the lead of our state's law enforcement officers, those who deal with crime and criminals on a daily basis; they oppose I-594 and support passage of Initiative 591. Vote yes on I-591 because it leaves intact our current background check laws while allowing our state to implement future enhancements adopted at the federal level for all 50 states.

I-594’s penalty provisions are one huge reason that law enforcement officers oppose this flawed initiative. Its promoters cleverly revised the law to define an I-594 felony as a "serious" offense, placing it in the same category as child molestation, third-degree rape, leading organized crime and drive-by shootings.

You could loan your gun to a friend for the weekend, and the judge hearing your paperwork crime would have to follow "serious" crime-sentencing guidelines, including consecutive sentences for these newly defined "serious" crimes.

No law enforcement organization supports Initiative 594.

The Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs represents the majority of law enforcement line-level officers in our state; it opposes the initiative. The Washington State Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association opposes it. These are the firearm professionals who would be tasked with enforcing this unreasonable law.

Nineteen elected sheriffs oppose I-594. They understand that the initiative will consume scarce resources in the prosecution and imprisonment of its accidental violators.

Philip Shave is executive director of Washington Arms Collectors and editor of GunNews.

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