Author Phil Shave is editor of Washington Arms Collectors Gun News and was WAC Executive director from 2013-2017. He retired as Chief of Law Enforcement at Washington state parks. Mr. Shave worked at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission for 18 years, and while there managed all the advanced training for all Law Enforcement Officers in Washington. Prior to WSCJTC Mr. Shave worked in the law enforcement assistance unit of the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.
Initiative 1639 – An Attack on Every Firearm Owner
Initiative 1639 has been filed with the Washington Secretary of State:
“AN ACT Relating to increasing public safety by implementing firearm safety measures, including requiring enhanced background checks, waiting periods, and increased age requirements for semiautomatic assault rifles and secure gun storage for all firearms.” We should all be informed of the contents so please go to the official copy online and read it, download it and print it out to share with others. Here is the web address:
This initiative is now in the signature gathering phase and if enough signatures are collected it will go directly to the voters, not to the legislature. If passed I-1639 will become law on July 1, 2019.
Every Semiautomatic Rifle is an Assault Rifle
Let me start with the initiative language that will do the most harm, the definition of an assault rifle.
I-1639 creates the following definition:
“Semiautomatic assault rifle” means 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.”
The age of your rifle, collectability, ATF definition of the firearm as a Curio or Relic, caliber, rimfire or centerfire, tube or box magazine—none of this makes any difference, ALL semiautos are defined as assault rifles. Your kid’s .22 LR plinker is an assault rifle. Your Garand collection is a collection of assault rifles. Turn of the 19th to 20th century semiautos are assault rifles.
You say that you hate those black plastic stocked AR-style rifles and wouldn’t have an “assault rifle” in the house? Too bad, the anti-gun community has outflanked you this time by including all of your wood stocked semiauto hunting rifles, all 22 semiautos and just about every rifle created from 1900 to now. Oh, antiques and inoperable firearms are generously exempted. So it’s not just Modern Sporting Rifles that have been included but all semiautomatic rifles.
Registration of Rifles
How will this affect collector transfers, private transfers and all FFL dealer sales? Semiauto rifle transfers will be handled like pistols are now with additional forms, State registration and waiting periods.
The Department of Licensing is authorized to keep, “copies or records of applications to purchase pistols or semiautomatic assault rifles.”
Firearm Storage is Criminalized
We all secure our firearms the best we can. Some can afford safes and others lock them up or use locking devices. I-1639 defines safe storage as follows: “Secure gun storage” means: (a) A locked box, gun safe, or other secure locked storage space that is designed to prevent unauthorized use or discharge of a firearm.” Oddly this definition excludes gun locks! Yet the initiative itself requires gun locks be provided with every sale. It appears that if one secures a firearm using a locking device it is by definition not in “secure gun storage.” Read the definition again—a secure storage SPACE seems to be required. And if you fail to have such a space and someone uses your firearm to do harm, you are the criminal.
A new crime of “community endangerment” is created that will allow you to be charged and jailed if your firearm is taken and misused. Yes, if you have secured your firearms you may not be charged and in this section gun locks are mentioned along with secure storage. We all strongly support safe firearm storage but changing the law to shift the blame for a crime onto the victim of a crime is wrong. The message to the public and the legal system is that your formerly law-abiding gun ownership is a threat to the community.
Annual Verification of Eligibility
I-1639 will institute a system that annually reviews your record to determine your eligibility to own firearms. You should expect that medical records, mental health issues, and social security disability will all be reviewed to determine whether you can possess that old semiauto hunting rifle. And you thought we were trying to scare you with visions of the police at your door to confiscate your firearms.
Out of State Purchasers
Residents of other states have been able to purchase rifles and shotguns here in Washington. 1639 will end this reasonable practice for semiauto rifles. Our WAC members in Idaho and Oregon will be unable to come to our shows and collect these firearms.
No Longer an Adult at Age 18
At age 18, you can vote, you can be charged with a crime as an adult, be imprisoned or drafted and do other adult things but you can’t take your 22 rifle into the woods to plink and you can’t go hunting with a license and a semiauto. I-1639 judges you to be too immature to do these adult activities. Thinking about taking your semi to the range for practice or a DCM shoot Forget it—that would be illegal.
What can a 18 year old do with a semiautomatic rifle? Stay at home on your own property. That’s it. The initiative states that a person, “ eighteen years of age, but less than twenty-one years of age, may possess a semiautomatic assault rifle only: (a) In the person’s place of abode; (b) At the person’s fixed place of business; (c) On real property under his or her control.”
Seriously…if this becomes law you can’t take your children to the range to have some shooting fun with the 10-22.
Government Safety Training Required
This initiative has costs that will be borne by firearm purchasers and owners. A new regimen of “safety” training to be delivered by government agencies is defined. Will it be free? Of course not and the price is not stated or limited. Firearm accidents are near zero in Washington. Death by firearm is either a criminal act or a suicide—neither is preventable through any kind of safety training. Hunter Safety classes teach safety and public and private firing ranges all provide safety training. This requirement is a bogus attempt to incorporate public safety into 1639 and increase the costs and create obstacles to firearm ownership.
Trigger Locks required
And you thought that trigger locks were already required? Well yes they are—by Federal law every firearm sold must have with a locking device. This section appears to exist only so that the initiative can masquerade as a safety measure. Nothing changes.
Rifles are Taxed
Sure they call it a fee but this is a tax on semiauto rifles. A fee of $25 is to be assessed by dealers for the Department of Licensing to use in their registration of firearms.
Multiple Initiative Subjects
Washington law requires that an initiative deal only with a single subject. In I-1639 we have changes to the age of firearm ownership, fees which are really taxes, storage requirements, changes to the definition of rifles and more. Most of the law changes would be in RCW 9.41. Still, there are obviously multiple separate and significant issues,not a single subject. This initiative is also falsely titled as dealing with “assault rifles.” These are flaws that may allow challenges but will not necessarily prevent a ballot vote. Don’t count on our courts to protect your rights–begin the fight now.
This article from the GunNews magazine, Washington Arms Collectors, may be reprinted and distributed by all those acting in opposition to I1639.