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Washington Background Check and Gun Laws

Washington is one of the original "shall issue" states. The county sheriff or city police chief shall issue a concealed pistol license to any applicant, age 21 or older, who meets certain requirements, including no felony convictions, no misdemeanor domestic violence convictions, and no outstanding warrants. Open carrying of firearms is not prohibited by law although trouble with some law enforcement agencies has been encountered while open carrying in the past, most notably in a case in Ellensburg, Washington.
Currently, there is a growing movement towards open carry in Washington. In Washington, there was a tremendous amount of disinformation among law enforcement officers, gun store employees, and firearms instructors about RCW 9.41.270.
In December 2005, activists Gray Peterson and Jim March went to the state archives in Olympia to research the origins of the law. March, with his experience in researching gun control laws created out of racial discrimination and strife in California, surmised during a conversation with Peterson, that due to the year it was passed, it was likely due to "Panther paranoia." March was proven correct.
The law, passed in 1969, was passed in response to incidents involving the Seattle Chapter of Black Panther Party at Rainier Beach High School and the Protest of the Mulford Act by the main organization in the California Assembly.
Since the Washington State Constitution contains an individual right-to-keep-and-bear-arms provision (Article 1, Section 24), the Washington Legislature revised the bill that was debated to remove the "within 500 feet [152 m] of a public place" provisions and left the current statute as is. There were points of debate about whether this could be interpreted as an open-carry ban, to which the sponsors of the bill replied that it was a ban against the type of intimidation that the Black Panther Party engaged in at Rainier Beach and the California Assembly, not an open-carry ban.
Many law enforcement personnel, a generation removed from the events and discussions of the Legislature when the law was created and without much guidance, interpreted the law passed as an open-carry ban that is situational to someone making a 911 phone call. This interpretation spread to gun store employees and firearms instructors, who have a lot of personal interaction with law enforcement.
Using the information from the state archives, Peterson pursued the issuance of guidance and memorandums to individual officers by police administrators. After one of these bulletins was issued by one department, Peterson acquired the bulletin by a public-records request, used the training bulletin as a template, and approached most police departments throughout the state. To this day, over a dozen major departments, including the King County Sheriff's Department and the Seattle Police Department, have issued advisories and roll call training to their officers that peaceable open carry of a handgun in a holster is legal.
As a general rule, a person may legally open-carry in Washington State in any place it is legal to possess a loaded handgun. To open-carry in a vehicle (i.e., car, bus, etc…) a person must have a valid concealed pistol license. Some police agencies can be unfriendly towards open-carry, so it is important that before a person exercises their right to bear arms in this fashion they acquaint themselves with relevant laws.

There are multiple exceptions to laws restricting firearms on school grounds such as:

  1. Any person in possession of a pistol who has been issued a license under RCW 9.41.070, or is exempt from the licensing requirement by RCW 9.41.060, while picking up or dropping off a student.
  2. Any nonstudent at least eighteen years of age legally in possession of a firearm or dangerous weapon that is secured within an attended vehicle or concealed from view within a locked unattended vehicle while conducting legitimate business at the school.
Prohibited areas for firearms are contained in RCW 9.41.300, RCW 9.41.280, and RCW 70.108.150.
Per RCW 9.41.290 (state preemption of firearm laws), divisions of local government (city, county, town, or other municipality) cannot regulate firearms more restrictively than the state does. Exceptions to state preemption — that is, areas in which local governments are allowed to regulate firearms — are contained in RCW 9.41.300. These exceptions include:

  • "Restricting the discharge of firearms in any portion of their respective jurisdictions where there is a reasonable likelihood that humans, domestic animals, or property will be jeopardized. Such laws and ordinances shall not abridge the right of the individual guaranteed by Article I, section 24 of the state Constitution to bear arms in defense of self or others."
  • "Restricting the possession of firearms in any stadium or convention center, operated by a city, town, county, except that such restrictions shall not apply to [concealed pistol license holders, law enforcement officers, or any] showing, demonstration, or lecture involving the exhibition of firearms."
  • "Restricting the areas in their respective jurisdictions in which firearms may be sold."
Several localities (including transit agencies) who had wrongfully enforced preempted local ordinances and rules have been challenged by activists in the open-carry movement (who are most directly affected by the enforcement of such ordinances) and have since backed down from enforcement and directed their police departments no longer to enforce the ordinances and rules.
Washington allows ownership of a firearm silencer, but using one is prohibited by RCW 9.41.250(1c) which makes it a gross misdemeanor to "Use any contrivance or device for suppressing the noise of any firearm."
Washington is a "Stand Your Ground" state, in which there is no duty to retreat in the face of what would be perceived by an ordinary person to be a threat to themselves or others by another person that is likely to cause serious injury or death.
It is a Class C felony for a non-resident alien to possess a firearm in Washington without an Alien Firearm License (Permanent Residents can legally possess firearms without a license as stated in RCW 9.41.171). Washington had stopped issuing Alien Firearm Licenses due to a problem obtaining background checks, but a court ordered the Washington State Department of Licensing to resuming issuing the licenses after a lawsuit was filed by the National Rifle Association and Second Amendment Foundation on Second Amendment grounds.
It is a gross misdemeanor to aim a firearm "whether loaded or not, at or towards any human being".
Washington State accepts concealed-weapons permits from the following states: Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma & Utah.
Washington State law also carves exemptions into state law regarding Concealed Pistol Licenses. Perhaps the most interesting is RCW 9.41.060, section 8: "Any person engaging in a lawful outdoor recreational activity such as hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, or horseback riding, only if, considering all of the attendant circumstances, including but not limited to whether the person has a valid hunting or fishing license, it is reasonable to conclude that the person is participating in lawful outdoor activities or is traveling to or from a legitimate outdoor recreation area;". This little known law essentially allows vehicle and concealed carry WITHOUT a CPL as normally required in 9.41.050 as long as you meet the provisions of that section.
It is a violation of state law to buy, sell or own a machine gun in Washington state.
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