In November 2014, Washington voters passed Initiative 594 after proponents spent more than $10 million to promote it, but yesterday KING 5 News and the Northwest News Network broke the news: after more than a year, the law has accounted for only 50 blocked sales.
This was according to data obtained by KING5 News and the public radio network via a records request to the FBI, which runs the National Instant Check System (NICS). Proponents of the initiative think this proves the measure is a success.
But is it, really? Get out the pocket calculator and follow along. According to KING, “FBI records show that a total of 3,948 felons were caught trying to buy a firearm in Washington state last year. Almost all of those cases involved sales by licensed firearms dealers.”
The 50 “additional felons” were caught because of I-594, the story said. But that’s a little over one percent of the total number, and it is half of a story. Where were the 50 arrests and prosecutions? Where were the 50 convictions?
But is “caught” the right term to be using here? Were all of these people arrested and prosecuted? Or did they just get turned away at the retail counter, perhaps even due to a “false positive” from NICS that later turned out to be wrong?
Back on Dec. 4 of last year, the one-year anniversary of I-594 taking effect, the Citizen’s Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, noted in a news release several cases where felons and teen thugs had obtained guns since the law took effect. This column found even more such cases.
Since then, at least two high-profile incidents have occurred involving people with criminal backgrounds who should not have had firearms. There was Che Taylor, killed by Seattle Police last month in north Seattle in an incident the family and many others are questioning. According to The Stranger, the family is asking for an independent investigation. Taylor was reportedly armed with a handgun, but police have yet to disclose to this column where the gun came from.
Then there was David Wayne Campbell, who killed most of his family and then committed suicide in front of police, as reported by the Kitsap Sun. Campbell had a criminal history that should have kept him away from guns, but there were several in the house, perhaps belonging to his wife.
Yesterday’s reports quoted Joanna Paul with the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. She told KUOW that the 50 denials proves the law is working.
But without arrests or convictions, what proof is there that these people didn’t subsequently obtain firearms through some illicit means? As KING reported, “State court records show there have been no prosecutions related to I-594.”
Back on Jan. 5, KING reported that many gun buyers may not be following the background check law. The station said only two percent of background checks reported in this state “stemmed from ‘private party’ sales of guns.” Between April and October 2015 the station said NICS data showed 170,876 background checks had been done in this state, and only 3,290 involved private party sales.
Keep doing the math. Stacking these numbers against the 50 rejected NICS checks suggests thousands of law-abiding citizens were not merely inconvenienced by I-594, but it cost them money for the checks. Can anyone see a problem with that?
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