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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Status of Washington state law regarding firearms as of September 2015

NOTICE: Please check the status for Washington state and other state laws for more current language.

Law provision
Other states
(Source: Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence,
Universal background check for all sales

RCW 9.41.113

YES. All sales of firearms, including private sales, must be conducted through a federally licensed firearms dealer who will conduct a background check on the buyer. In 2014 WA became the first state in the nation to pass a universal background check law by voter initiative. *CA, CO, CT, DE, NY, RI, DC require universal background checks.

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

*IL, OR require background checks at gun shows.

Local legislation or regulation allowed

RCW 9.41.290

NO. State law preempts local government from enacting legislation except in very specific situations. The validity of a local restriction depends upon its language and whether it is found to be preempted. *No local preemption: MA, HI, OH, CT, LA, NJ, NY, NE, CA
Restrict types of weapons/ammunition NO. Washington permits assault weapons, .50 caliber rifles, and large capacity ammunition magazines (those that can convert guns to high capacity weapons). *CA, CT, HI, MD, MA, NJ, NY - ban all or some types of assault weapons

*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. WA does not have specific child access provisions though the law does not permit transfer to someone when reasonable cause to believe the person is legally unable to possess a gun. CAP laws in other states require safe storage devices, training/education, etc.

No explicit criminal liability where poor storage allows child to access a firearm.

27 states have CAP laws.

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

Access to guns for youth under 18

RCW 9.41.042

YES. WA permits youth under 18 to access some types of guns in certain circumstances.

Sale to Under 18:

  • Rifles/shotguns – Federally-licensed dealer may not sell to person under 18. Private seller may sell to person of any age.
  • HandgunsNeither Federally-licensed dealer nor private seller may sell to person under 18.

Possession/Use by Under 18:

  • Rifles/shotguns Can possess/use in certain circumstances. Even though state law default is that youth under 18 may not possess guns, the law gives
    9 exceptions1. These broad exceptions effectively allow possession in many circumstances, but juveniles (below age 21) may not apply for concealed weapon permit and must be on their property with permission of a parent, unless meeting one of other exceptions.
  • Handguns- Cannot possess if under 18 (prohibited under Federal law.)
*37 states impose stricter minimum age than Federal law for purchase and/or possession of firearms, and vary including all firearm purchase, handgun possession, and long guns.
Access to guns for youth 18-21 MIXED.

Sale to 18-21:

  • Rifles/shotguns – Federally-licensed dealer and private seller may sell to 18-21 year olds.
  • Handguns – Private seller may sell to 18-21 year olds.

Possession/Use by 18-21:

  • Rifles/shotguns – Possession is permitted, as long as person is not prohibited under other explicit areas of the law that limit possession due to categorical exclusion. (See potentially violent offender limits below)
  • Handguns – Possession is permitted, but may not have concealed weapon permit under 21, so effectively limited to residence, business, on his/her property.
  • Ammunition: No age limit for purchase/use under WA law
*37 states impose stricter minimum age than Federal law for purchase and/or possession of firearms, and vary including all firearm purchase, handgun possession, and long guns.
Restrictions on adult/youth possession

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

RCW 9.41.040

RCW 9.41.340

YES. Felon Possession. WA 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. Note that felonies can be pled to misdemeanors through plea bargain.

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. WA law does not address limits on alcohol/substance abusers. Some limits exist on sales/possession by substance abusers under federal law.

MIXED. Mentally Ill. WA 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 possession. WA 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. For youth, it takes 5 convictions before sentencing of 15 to 36 weeks to the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration.

MIXED. Domestic Violence. WA law prohibits possession of a firearm by anyone who has been convicted of a domestic violence crime or who has a restraining order related to the safety of an intimate partner. In 2015, a law was passed that requires law enforcement to allow family or household members to request to be notified before a firearm is returned to a person who was previously required to surrender the firearm.

*Federal laws provide basic minimums for prohibitions, including prohibiting ownership by convicted felons, those adjudicated as criminally insane and those involuntarily committed.

*23 states disqualify for some misdemeanor offenses.

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

Theft reporting required MIXED. WA 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. CT, DE, IL, MD, MA, MI, NJ, NY, OH, RI, DC
Registration System NO. WA law does not require registration of firearms and firearm owners. *HI, IL, MA, NJ – require registration for all purchasers/owners

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

*HI, DC – require registration of all firearms. DC's registration was challenged and parts of its statute over-turned subsequent to this research (mid-September, 2015).

Waiting period

RCW 9.41.092

MIXED. Allows 10 business days to complete a background check; not a mandatory waiting period. *10 states plus DC have wait periods; including 4 states with wait period for Federally-licensed and private sales
Multiple purchases NO. No limit on number of purchases. *CA, MD, NJ and DC restrict # of purchases in a specified period
Gun Violence Tax NO.

1RCW 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 firearm 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 and is not trespassing, and the person is either: (a) at least 14, has been issued a hunter safety certificate, and is using a lawful firearm other than a pistol; or (b) us 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
  • On property of parent, relative or legal guardian, and with permission to possess a firearm
  • At his or her residence and, with permission of parent or legal guardian, possesses a firearm for purpose of exercising right of lawful use of force (self-defense) per RCW 9A.16.020(3).
  • Is a member of the armed force, when on duty.