skip to main content

Public Health - Seattle & King County

Status of Washington state law regarding firearms (as of January 12, 2013)*

NOTICE: The information on this page was up-to-date in January 2013. We recommend that you check the status for Washington state and other state laws for more current language.

Law provision
Other states21
Universal background check for all sales NO. Only for sales through licensed gun dealers. 40% of guns sold nationally are estimated to occur through private sales. This gap is often called the “gun-show” loophole, but exempts all private sales from checks. *CA, RI, DC require universal background checks

*MD, CT, PA require some background checks beyond dealer sales

*CO, CT, IL, NY, OR require background checks at gun shows

*Local: Chicago, Columbus, NYC and Omaha regulate private sales

Local legislation or regulation allowed NO. State law pre-empts local government from enacting legislation, except in very specific situations. This restriction has been tested in Washington courts and has been upheld as allowing very narrow exceptions for local jurisdictions. *No local pre-emption: MA, IL, HI, OH, CT, LA, NJ, NY, NE, CA
Restrict types of weapons/ammunition NO. Washington permits assault weapons, .50 caliber rifles, and large capacity magazines (those that can convert guns to high capacity weapons).

Washington also permits large capacity ammunition.

*CA, CT, HI, MD, MA, NJ, NY — ban all or some types of assault weapons

*MD, MN, VA — regulate some types

Some states ban large capacity magazines designed for use with any firearm, others for use with handguns, others limit by number of rounds fired.

Child Access Provisions (CAP) NO. Washington does not have specific child access provisions, though law does not permit knowing transfer to someone believed to be legally unable to possess a gun. CAP laws regulate by requiring safe storage, training/education, etc.

NO criminal liability explicit in law for negligence/reckless endangerment where poor storage allows child access.

*27 states have CAP laws.

Criminal liability: HI, MD, MA, MN, NJ, TX

*Local locking provisions: Chicago, Cleveland, LA, NYC. Chicago and Cleveland have CAP laws.

Access to guns for youth under 18 YES.

Purchase by Under 18:

Rifles/shotgunsCannot purchase from licensed firearms dealers (federal minimum). No minimum age for private purchase of these long guns.

HandgunsCannot purchase from either licensed dealer or private sale.

Possession/Use by Under 18:

Rifles/shotgunsCan possess/use in certain circumstances. Even though state law default is that youth under 18 may not possess guns, the law gives 8 exceptions. These exceptions effectively allow possession in many circumstances.

HandgunsCannot possess under 18, with certain exceptions (federal law).

*37 states impose stricter minimum age than federal law for purchase and/or possession of firearms, and vary, including all firearm purchases, handgun possession, and long guns.

*Local: Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, NYC

Access to guns for youth 18-21 YES.

Purchase by 18-21:

Rifles/shotgunsCan purchase from licensed firearms dealers (federal minimum) and private sale.

HandgunsCan purchase from private sale.

Possession/Use by 18-21:

Rifles/shotgunsCan possess/use at residence, business, or on his/her property (but subject to restrictions on adult/youth possession, below).

Handguns — No age limit for purchase/use in private sale under Washington law. Where federal law specifies age limits for purchase of handguns and long guns, age limits for ammunition sales by dealers track these limits.

Concealed weapon permits — Youth under 21 may not apply for a concealed weapon permit.

*37 states impose stricter minimum age than federal law for purchase and/or possession of firearms, and vary, including all firearm purchases, handgun possession, and long guns.

*Local: Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, NYC

RCW 9.41.042 allows the following exceptions for youth possession. A youth under 18 may possess if s/he is:

  • In attendance at a hunter’s safety course or firearms safety course;
  • Engaging in practice in use of a firearm or target shooting at an established range or any other area where discharge of a firearm is not prohibited;
  • Engaged in organized competition or performance;
  • Hunting or trapping with a valid license issued to the person;
  • In an area where discharge of a firearm is permitted, is at least 14, has been issued a hunter safety certificate and is using a firearm other than a pistol, or is under the supervision of a parent, guardian, or other adult approved by the parent or guardian;
  • Traveling to/from one of the above activities and the firearm is unloaded;
  • At residence and with permission of parent or legal guardian to possess a firearm for purposes of exercising right of use of force (self-defense) per 9A.16.020(3);
  • On property of parent, relative or legal guardian, and with permission to possess a firearm; or
  • Is a member of the armed forces, when on duty.
Law provision
Other states21
Restrictions on adult/youth possession

Federal law sets minimums — Washington law mirrors many provisions in federal law

YES. Felon possession. Washington prohibits those convicted of felonies from possessing a firearm, unless that right is restored by a court. For certain felonies, the penalty is more serious.

MIXED. Misdemeanants’ possession. Those convicted of certain misdemeanor crimes cannot possess a firearm, including specific crimes against family members, unless that right is restored by a court. Note that felonies can be pled to misdemeanors through plea bargain.

NO. Alcohol/substance abusers. Washington’s law does not address limits on alcohol/substance abusers. Some limits exist for substance abusers under federal law.

MIXED. Mentally ill. Washington’s law prohibits those who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity for certain crimes or committed for mental health treatment from possessing a firearm, unless that right is restored by a court. Specific mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and major depression do not prohibit firearm possession.

MIXED. Youth offenders. Washington law has a 10-day sentence for the first 4 convictions for illegal possession of a firearm, but there are numerous sentencing alternatives, such as deferred dispositions, and other ways around the 10-day provision. It takes 5 convictions before sentencing of 15 to 36 weeks to the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration.

*Federal laws provide basic minimums for prohibitions, including prohibiting ownership by convicted felons, unless the right is restored, those "adjudicated as a mental defective" and those "committed to a mental institution."

*23 states disqualify for some misdemeanor offenses.

*18 states prohibit alcohol/substance abusers from owning firearms.

Theft reporting required MIXED. Washington does not require gun theft to be reported by private individuals (licensed dealers are required to report loss/theft under federal law). Theft reporting can help deter gun trafficking. *Require theft reporting: CT, MA, MI, NJ, NY, OH, RI, DC

*Local requiring theft reporting: Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Hartford, Los Angeles, NYC, San Francisco

Registration system NO. Washington law does not require registration of firearms and firearm owners. *HI, IL, MA, NJ — require registration for all purchasers/owners

*CA, CT, IA, MI, NY, NC, RI — license for all handgun owners/purchasers

*HI, DC — require registration of all firearms

Waiting period YES. 5 days, but ONLY for licensed sales of handguns without concealed pistol license (state law). For sales that take place on the private market (approx. 40% of all sales), there is no waiting period. * There is no federal waiting period. Under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a dealer may transfer a firearm to a prospective purchaser as soon as he or she passes a background check.

*12 states/DC have wait periods, including 4 states with wait period for federally-licensed and private sales.

Multiple purchases NO limit on number of purchases. *CA, MD, VA restrict number of purchases