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Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not private sellers) to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm. Federal law provides states with the option of serving as a state “point of contact” and conducting their own background checks using state, as well as federal, records and databases, or having the checks performed by the FBI using only the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. (Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.)

In 2014, Washington became the first state in the nation to pass a universal background checks law by voter initiative.1 The law requires all private sales of firearms to be conducted through a federally licensed firearms dealer who will conduct a background check on the private buyer. Washington also requires law enforcement to run a background check before returning a confiscated firearm.2

In 2020, Washington enacted a law making it a full point of contact state for NICS. The new law requires the Washington state patrol to establish a firearms background check unit to serve as a centralized single point of contact for dealers to conduct background checks for firearms sales or transfers.3 Until the new system becomes operational, however, the following background check procedures still apply4:

  • Local law enforcement departments serve as state points of contact for implementation of the Brady Act for all dealer deliveries of handguns. In 2018, voters approved a measure that extends this requirement to transfers of semiautomatic rifles.5
  • Licensed dealers must conduct background checks on prospective purchasers each time a dealer transfers a firearm.6 Washington requires firearms dealers to use NICS, the Washington State Patrol electronic database, the Department of Social and Health Services’ electronic database, and other agencies or resources as appropriate when processing firearm transactions.7

Thirty days after the Washington state patrol issues a notification to dealers that a state firearms background check system is established, the state patrol shall report each instance where an application for the purchase or transfer of a firearm is denied as the result of a background check that indicates the applicant is ineligible to possess a firearm to the local law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction where the attempted purchase or transfer took place. The reported information must include the identifying information of the applicant, the date of the application and denial of the application, the basis for the denial of the application, and other information deemed appropriate by the Washington state patrol.

The law enacted in 2017 also requires the Association to create an automated protected person notification system allowing a person to register to receive notification if an individual subject to a domestic violence order attempts to purchase a firearm.8


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  1. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.010[]
  2. 2015 WA S.B. 5381, Sect. 2(1).[]
  3. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 43.43.580.[]
  4. Rev. Code Wash. § 9.41.090.[]
  5. Washington Proposition 1639, effective July 1, 2019.[]
  6. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.090(2)(b).[]
  7. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.090(2)(b).[]
  8. Rev. Code Wash. (ARCW) § 36.28A.___ (added by 2017 c 261 § 5).[]