Learning From Washington’s Huge Background Checks Mistake

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The American electorate has once again proven itself to be easily manipulated by the mass media. Late last year, the voters in the State of Washington foolishly voted in favor of I-594. This ballot initiative fundamentally changed the status of gun owners in the state– treating everyone like suspected felons. Now, the centuries-long tradition of free intrastate commerce in used private party guns has been criminalized. In Washington, it is no longer legal to sell a used gun to your neighbor or even to your cousin. The law has only a few exceptions, such as transfers between immediate family members and transfers of pre-1899 antique guns (but only IF they are chambered in obsolete cartridges)! Now, nearly every gun sale or gift in Washington must go through a Federally-licensed dealer with a criminal background check, a Form 4473 filled out, and a dealer’s Bound Book entry completed, which is all information permanently put on file. (Under Federal law, FFL dealers who go out of business must ship off their bound books, or their digital equivalents, to the ATF’s cavernous “Out of Business Records Center.”) Also, a fee is charged for nearly all FFL transactions, and there is state-level paperwork now required for handgun transfers.

The enormity of the mistake that Washington’s voters made cannot be overstated. They traded their birthright for a warm bowl of feel-good pottage. These civilian disarmament schemes are often sugar-coated and labeled with Kumbaya names. This particular one was trotted out under the innocuous Soccer Mom-pleasing moniker “Universal Background Checks“. However, I-594 is the epitome of bad law. This is in fact very wicked legislation that converted a right into a crime, by putting an erstwhile private transactions under the control of a government licensed agent. Washington’s new law goes so far as to turn the former right of free intrastate commerce in used guns into a “gross misdemeanor” on the first offense and into a felony on the second offense. Think about that for a minute: A right has become a bureaucratized privilege, and failure to follow the bad law is a potential felony. As I’ve written in SurvivalBlog before:

Whenever someone must buy a license or pay a fee to exercise a right, then it is something less than a right. It is in fact a mere privilege, subject to the whim of petty bureaucrats. Fundamental rights are not abstract tokens that are given or sold by other men. They are in fact primary liberties bestowed upon us by God, our maker. Rights are not substantially secured by asking, “Mother may I?” of any government agency. Rights are more properly demanded or boldly seized and then conspicuously exercised regularly. This secures the liberties that have legitimately belonged to us since birth. If need be, lost rights can and must be restored through proscriptive use. If you live in a land where your rights have been marginalized into privileges, then it is either time to change your government, or to change your address. Much like a muscle that atrophies with disuse, any right that goes unexercised for many years devolves into a privilege, and eventually can even be redefined as a crime.

In essence, with the complicity of a distinctly biased media, the leftists won the War of Words that led up to the December 2014 election in Washington. They used feel-good phrases that conspicuously avoided the real, thorny, underlying issue to great effect. The mass media kept focusing on “keeping guns out of the hands of felons”, while always avoiding the real issue– putting government’s nose into our private business affairs, vetting nearly all gun transactions, and building mountains of paperwork that could someday be used for self-incrimination. This law will also ruin the tradition of private party gun shows in Washington. Sadly, gun shows in Washington will never be the same and will soon become like those in California– a great place to buy jerky and t-shirts but not guns. It is noteworthy that the I-594 vote was largely carried by the statist/leftist majority in western Washington. (Eastern Washingtonians are not so easily fooled.) I sincerely hope that the people of Washington realize the mistake they made and overturn this law. However, because populous Western Washington (west of the Cascades) has been flooded with statist immigrants from California for the past three decades, I doubt this will happen. This band of fools actually wants big government, with all of its trappings (and traps). The best that we can hope for is that the passage of I594 will further spur calls for the partition of Eastern Washington into a separate state. Given the increasingly polarized politics and morals of the two halves of the state, such a partition is almost inevitable. It is not a quest of “if” but rather of “when.” Ditto for eastern Oregon. (This explains why I only included the eastern halves of both states in The American Redoubt.)

All Americans should study what happened in Washington and learn from this monumental mistake. We must be prepared to stop similar ballot initiatives or legislation at our state capitols. We must be ready to clearly and forcefully articulate the real issues, not play by the statist rulebook, and not get suckered into using their mamby-pamby words and phrases. We need to stand up and say: “Wait second! You are talking about converting a right into a felony!

The I-594 initiative was not really about “disarming felons”. Rather, it was about eventually disarming us all. – JWR

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