On July 23, Washington will require survivors of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault be notified if their abuser fails a background check when attempting to purchase a firearm. According to The Trace, Washington will be the first state to enact this form of gun control.
The requirement is part of a broader bill that requires gun dealers to alert the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs after someone fails a background check. That information goes into a database shared with law enforcement, and a statewide notification system will share the news with survivors of domestic or sexual violence with court protections. The bill also dedicates a new grant to fund investigations into anyone who attempts to illegally purchase a firearm.
According to Everytown USA, a gun control advocacy group, more than 50 percent of mass shootings are related to domestic violence. And in cases of domestic violence, if the abuser has access to a gun, the chance that a woman will be fatally shot increases by five times. Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony, anyone under a domestic violence protective order, or anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence from possessing a firearm. However, most states have several loopholes in the law, including one that allows abusers with a non-legally recognized relationship to the victim (a boyfriend or former partner, for example), to purchase guns from unlicensed or private sellers. In states that require background checks on all handgun sales, Everytown notes, “47 percent fewer women are shot by intimate partners.” In 2014, Washington passed a law requiring universal background checks on firearm sales.
“We want there to be criminal consequences if you knowingly, illegally try to purchase a firearm,” the bill’s primary sponsor Democratic Rep. Drew Hansen told the AP in May. “There’s no mechanism for that to happen right now. This bill creates that mechanism.”
“Survivors of domestic violence and coercive control are the experts on their situation, and experts on the abuser’s behavior,” Seattle Police Department Natalie Dolci told The Trace. “If they learn that the abuser is attempting to access firearms illegally, they will know the significance of that red flag, and be able to plan accordingly.”
Correction: Washington was the first state to pass universal background checks for gun purchases as a ballot initiative, but not the first state to pass universal background checks into law.