The recent report criticizing our state’s system for conducting background checks on potential gun buyers is not surprising.
At the request of Gov. Jay Inslee, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson conducted an access-to-firearm study. His research found that Washington’s system for running background checks on people attempting to buy guns is fragmented, and needs fixing.
The report suggests that “specific improvements” are needed.
Well, that’s a conclusion many people in our community could have predicted. But still, it’s good to have official documentation reinforcing the assumption.
Currently, 260 local law enforcement agencies are responsible for conducting background checks when someone in their jurisdiction wants to buy a handgun or get a concealed pistol license.
The process can include checking with more than one mental health agency or database to make sure the buyer should not be disqualified from making the purchase.
This approach has led to a spotty, confusing and inconsistent system — something many anticipated when tougher background check laws were approved in the past.
Two years ago, we opposed an initiative that attempted to close a loophole that allowed people to avoid background checks if they bought guns at gun shows, from private parties or through online connections.
We were not opposed to filling this gap in the system. No one likes the idea of someone who would be denied buying a firearm at a shop being able to find a way around the law. In that sense, the initiative — I-594 —made sense.
However, we were concerned about the burden additional background checks might place on local law enforcement agencies, and how enforceable the new law would be.
Looking at other states at the time, it appeared that those that added new background-check requirements without providing the money necessary to conduct them ended up with an inadequate, patchy system.
This, apparently, is where we are now. As the state attorney general suggests, the current process is broken.
Ferguson’s report said background checks should be streamlined, and that the state should provide enough resources so that they can be made more reliable and conducted in a timelier manner.
It would certainly help if law enforcement agencies could better share information about people who tried to buy a gun, but were rejected.
In addition, the report also said there should be a better system for restoring the right to own guns for certain people. Once they have lost the privilege, there should be a process in place for them to possibly get it back.
The governor’s request to study the issue is so the state can get a better handle on gun-related violence and crime. Statistics show deaths by firearms in Washington state now exceed vehicle deaths, and about 80 percent of gun deaths are suicide.
It is understandable state officials want to see these terrible statistics reduced.
Of late, however, chipping away at gun ownership has been the go-to method for reducing these terrible tragedies. A broad view of the issue is needed. If anything, this latest study shows the need for a better, more cohesive approach to background check laws.