On November 6, 2018, the Washington State Legislature passed Initiative 1639, enacting sweeping regulations on the purchase of semi-automatic rifles.  Effective in 2019, the law: 1.) defines “semi-automatic assault rifle;”  2.) raises the minimum age of purchase to 21; 3.) enacts a waiting period; 4.) requires completion of a safety class before purchase of a semi-automatic rifle; 5.) requires waiver of medical privacy rights for anyone purchasing a semi-automatic rifle; 6.) creates a “look back” background check provision; and, 7.) creates safe gun storage requirements.

1.)  Definition of “semi-automatic assault rifle”

The law characterizes “semi-automatic assault rifle” as:

any rifle which utilizes a portion of the energy of a firing cartridge to extract the fired cartridge case and chamber the next round, and which requires a separate pull of the trigger to fire each cartridge.

So, a semi-automatic assault rifle includes military style rifles like the AR-15, and also target shooting rifles like the Ruger 10/22.

The definition excludes lever or pump action rifles, but makes no distinction between target rifles like the popular Ruger 10/22 – and civilian versions of rifles designed for military use like the AR-15.

2.)  Minimum purchase age

The law raises the minimum purchase age of semi-automatic rifles from 18 years of age to 21.

3.)  Waiting period

Purchasers of semi-automatic rifles must wait at least 10 days after purchase before picking up the rifle.  The statute authorizes the Department of Licensing (DOL) to collect a fee to cover the administrative costs of the background check.  DOL has set this fee at $18.00.

4.)  Semi-automatic rifles – safety class required

Before a dealer can deliver a semi-automatic rifle to a purchaser, the buyer must provide proof of attendance at a recognized firearm safety class.  The class must be completed once every five years.  Class topics include, firearm safety, safe storage, and suicide prevention.

5.)  Waiver of medical privacy rights

An application to purchase a pistol or semi-automatic rifle means waiving your medical privacy rights.  This means that doctors, clinics, and mental health providers can release your medical records to law enforcement agencies running a background check.

6.)  Look Back Provision

The initiative directs the department of licensing and state patrol to create a process to verify – at least annually – that those who have acquired pistols or semi-automatic rifles remain eligible to possess them.  This means these agencies will check court and medical records for disqualifying charges, convictions, or mental health information whether or not gun owners have acquired or purchased a gun recently.

7.)  Safe gun storage

Initiative 1639 creates a set of crimes for those who store firearms in a place where a reasonable person would know that a prohibited person can access the firearms.  A prohibited person is someone prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal or state law.

If the prohibited person injures or kills someone with the firearm, the owner can be prosecuted for a class C felony.  If the prohibited person displays, discharges, or uses the gun in the commission of a crime, the owner can be charged with a gross misdemeanor.

The law creates exceptions, including an exception for unlawful entry.  If a firearm was stolen in a burglary, for example, the owner has five days to report the theft to a law enforcement agency.  The five days begins when the owner knew or reasonably should have known that the gun was missing.

A person can not be prosecuted if the firearm at issue was in secure gun storage, or secured with a trigger lock.  For more on secure gun storage, click here.

This is intended as a brief summary of the legislation, and should not be considered legal advice.  If you have been denied purchase of a firearm under Washington law and are interested in challenging the denial or restoring your rights, contact us for a consultation.