2023 Brings New Firearms Legislation to Washington State
The Washington State Legislature (Legislature) passed several firearms-related bills during the 2023 legislative session, all of which local governments should familiarize themselves with. While these new firearms regulations don’t require any action by local government legislative bodies due to state preemption of firearm regulation, they do add to a growing list of firearm regulations adopted in response to the increased number of firearms shootings in Washington State and around the country. Local law enforcement agencies in particular may be interested in changing requirements for background checks and sharing of sealed juvenile records.
Bans on Assault Weapons and High-Capacity Magazines
On April 25, 2023, Governor Inslee signed into law HB 1240, a ban on the manufacture, import, distribution, sale, or offer of sale of any assault weapon.
Law enforcement agencies are still authorized to purchase assault weapons from dealers and manufacturers. The law doesn’t appear to address whether a law enforcement agency can surplus assault weapons to another law enforcement agency, so that remains an unresolved issue. Finally, the law doesn’t apply to those who inherit an assault weapon, nor does it impact possession of an assault weapon.
The 2023 assault weapons ban has withstood recent legal challenges and, on a related matter, a U.S. District Court judge in the Eastern District of Washington recently upheld as constitutional the state’s ban on the sale, manufacture, and distribution of high-capacity magazines, which was previously adopted in 2022.
Background Checks and Other Firearm Sale and Ownership Requirements
Effective January 1, 2024, HB 1143 imposes additional requirements for the sale and transfer of firearms, including the following provisions:
- Background checks are required for all firearm sales and transfers, with some limited exceptions including sales or transfers to law enforcement agencies and officers acting within the course and scope of their employment or official duties (RCW 9.41.113). Background checks are to be performed through the Washington State Patrol Firearms Background Check Program, a centralized stated system, rather than through local law enforcement agencies.
- A 10-day waiting period is required between the purchase and delivery of the firearm to the purchaser.
- The purchaser must provide proof of having completed a recognized firearm safety training program within the last five years.
Firearm transfers to museums and historical societies are now exempt from any background check requirement — See RCW 9.41.113(j) as well as a September 8, 2023, NW News Network article for detail on the background of this new law.
Sealed Juvenile Records
Juvenile court records are sealed pursuant to court order and the sealed records are confidential, with limited exceptions. RCW 13.50.260 was amended by HB 1600 to allow for the sharing of sealed juvenile records with non-Washington criminal justice agencies solely for the purpose of conducting a background check for processing firearms transfers and licenses and releasing firearms from evidence.
MRSC has more general information on disclosure of juvenile records on its Disclosure of Juvenile Law Enforcement Records webpage.
Increased Responsibility for Firearms Industry Members
The Legislature also adopted the Firearm Industry Responsibility and Gun Violence Victims’ Access to Justice Act, making certain actions of firearm industry members a public nuisance. The law requires firearm industry members to implement reasonable controls in the form of procedures, safeguards, and business practices aimed at preventing certain occurrences, such as the sale of firearms to straw purchasers or gun traffickers.
It also prohibits industry members from selling firearm products in a manner that targets minors or those who are prohibited from possessing a firearm, or that could foreseeably promote conversion of a legal firearm product into an illegal one.
The attorney general is charged with investigating and bringing a public nuisance claim against firearm industry members that violate the law. Harmed members of the public may also bring a public nuisance claim to court. Actions may also be taken under the Consumer Protection Act, chapter 19.86 RCW.
While it takes some effort to stay abreast of the gun control laws in effect at the federal and state level, the Washington State Attorney General’s Firearms webpage highlights state firearms legislation. Additionally MRSC’s Firearms Regulation webpage covers the role of local government in regulating firearms in Washington State.
MRSC will continue to update our materials and publish more blogs as the firearm regulation landscape evolves.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.