OLYMPIA (AP) - Gun control advocates, prosecutors and police groups pushed
lawmakers Thursday to close a loophole that allows the unregulated sale of handguns
at gun shows.
Federally licensed firearms dealers - including those who operate at gun shows
- must perform background checks on anyone who purchases a firearm and keep
records of buyers' names and addresses. For handgun buyers, state law also requires
a five-day waiting period.
But people who only make occasional sales at gun shows aren't considered dealers,
and can sell handguns with neither a background check nor a waiting period.
That category of sellers often includes collectors who offer a large range of
guns for sale.
Gun control advocates call that exemption a dangerous opportunity for criminals
to evade the background checks required for commercial sales.
"This is a dangerous loophole in the law," Bill Hanson, executive
director of the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, told the Senate Judiciary
Senate Bill 6689, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, would require
background checks on all buyers of firearms at gun shows. Also, all sales would
have to be handled through a licensed dealer so the transaction could be recorded.
Transferring a gun at a gun show without a background check would become a
gross misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum year in jail and $5,000 fine.
Gun show promoters and the National Rifle Association attacked the bill as
an attack on the constitutionally protected right to bear arms.
"There is no gun-show loophole," said Brian Judy, the NRA's state
liaison for Washington. He said all existing laws governing gun sales apply
at gun shows. Judy characterized the bill as an attempt to regulate private
sales of guns and create a registry of citizens who own firearms.
"They want to know who has what firearms," he said.
Joe Waldron of Washington Arms Collectors, which promotes about a third of
the gun shows held in Washington each year, said gun control advocates are attacking
the wrong target.
A 1997 Justice Department study of prison inmates found that less than 1 percent
obtained their guns from gun shows. Nearly 40 percent got firearms from friends
or family, while 39 percent obtained guns on the street or from an illegal source.
"Why don't they go after those people?" Waldron asked.
The proposed bill wouldn't change laws on private sales between individuals.
But Washington CeaseFire, the state's largest gun control group, cited recent
examples of criminals using weapons from gun shows.
One example was Larry Shandola, who was convicted of murder in Pierce County
years after an execution-style killing with a shotgun bought at a gun show.
The gun was recovered from bushes near the crime scene and police were only
able to follow a paper trail of ownership as far as a gun show, where Shandola
bought it from someone without a dealer's license, said Gerald Costello, a Pierce
"It was a cash transaction, there were no records of it," Costello
Waldron countered that the gun show's promoter, Washington Arms Collectors,
and the seller of the gun helped link the gun to Shandola. He also said Shandola
had no criminal record and had passed a background check to join the organization.
"He was perfectly qualified to buy that gun," Waldron said.
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Waldron and other opponents also protested the bill's broad definition of gun
show, which includes flea markets and auctions at which three or more people
assemble to deal in firearms.