Federal law establishes a baseline national standard regarding individuals’ eligibility to acquire and possess firearms. Under federal law, people are generally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms if they have been convicted of a felony or some domestic violence misdemeanors, or if they are subject to certain court orders related to domestic violence or a serious mental condition. However, federal law merely provides a floor, and has notable gaps that allow individuals who have demonstrated significant risk factors for violence or self-harm to legally acquire and possess guns.
Washington generally prohibits a person from owning, possessing, or having in their control any firearm if the person:1
- Has been convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity of a felony;2
- Has been convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity of certain domestic violence crimes committed against a member of his or her family or household (see the Washington Domestic Violence & Firearms section);
- Has been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment under Washington Rev. Code Ann. §§ 71.05.240 (involuntary or alternative treatment for 14 days), 71.05.320 (treatment for an adult for 90 or 180 days), 71.34.740 (involuntary commitment hearing for a minor), 71.34.750 (treatment a minor for 180 days) or chapter 10.77 (treatment when found not guilty by reason of insanity or incompetent to stand trial), and has not had his or her right to possess a firearm restored;3
- Has had non-felony, serious offense charges dismissed by a court on the basis that the defendant was found to be incompetent and the court has made a finding that the defendant has a history of one or more violent acts.4
- Has been has been detained at a facility for seventy-two-hour evaluation and treatment on the grounds that the person presents a likelihood of serious harm, but who has not been subsequently committed for involuntary treatment (prohibition lasts for a period of six months after the date that the person is detained);5
- Is under 18 years of age (see the Washington Minimum Age to Purchase/Possess section for exceptions); or
- Is free on bond or personal recognizance pending trial, appeal, or sentencing for a “serious offense.”
In 2016, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved of a law that enables individuals who are most likely to notice the warning signs of violence– family members– to petition a court to remove guns from a loved one in crisis. The law, called an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), allows family members, as well as law enforcement officers, to file a petition demonstrating to a judge that an individual poses a significant risk of harm to himself, herself, or others. If the court determines that the petitioner has met the standard of proof, it will issue an order that lasts up to one year. An individual subject to an ERPO is prohibited from possessing firearms, and must relinquish his or her guns to law enforcement6. For more information about these types of laws see our policy page on Extreme Risk Protection Orders.
Moreover, the state prohibits any person serving a sentence in a state correctional institution and any person confined in a county or local correctional institution from knowingly possessing or controlling a firearm while in the institution or being conveyed to or from the institution or while under the custody or supervision of institution officials, officers, or employees, or while on any premises subject to the control of the institution.9
Voluntary Waiver of Firearm Rights
Washington allows individuals to voluntarily waive their right to possess a firearm.10 To do so, an individual files a voluntary waiver form with the clerk of a court. After verifying the individual’s identity using a photo identification, the clerk then notifies the state patrol, who will enter the voluntary waiver into the National Instant Criminal Background Check system.11 Individuals who file voluntary waivers may list a contact person to be notified in the event that the individual subsequently revokes the voluntary waiver.12
An individual may revoke his or her voluntary waiver no sooner than seven calendar days after filing the waiver.13 The clerk of the court must again confirm the individual’s identification using a photo identification, and must then transmit the revocation form to the state patrol. The state patrol must then, within seven days, remove the individual’s name from the National Instant Criminal Background Check system (unless the individual is otherwise ineligible to possess a firearm), and must destroy all records of the voluntary waiver.14
Registration of Gun Offenders
Washington state requires courts to determine whether an individual convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity of certain gun crimes must register as a felony firearm offender.15 The court may consider all relevant factors including the person’s criminal history, convictions in other states, and evidence of the person’s propensity for violence that would likely endanger others.16 If so ordered, the person must register with their local county sheriff within 48 hours of their release from custody or the date the court imposes the felony firearm sentence, if the sentence does not include confinement.17 Within five working days, the county sheriff must forward registration information to the Washington state patrol which maintains a felony firearm offense conviction database to be used by law enforcement. Information in the database is not subject to public disclosure.18
For further information on the background check process used to enforce these provisions, see the Washington Background Check Procedures section.
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- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.040. Washington enables a person previously ineligible to possess a firearm by virtue of a conviction or a finding of not guilty of a non-felony offense after three years in the community to petition a court of record to have his or her right to possess a firearm restored, if the person has not been convicted of any further crimes. See Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.040(4).
- State law restricts people convicted of all felonies from accessing firearms but also provides more severe penalties for unlawful possession of firearms by people convicted of specified felonies defined as “serious offenses.” Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.040.; Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.010(12).
- See Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.047; Wash Admin. Code 388-865-0585, 388-875-0080.
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 10.77.088(3), 9.41.040(2)(a)(5).
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 71.05.182.
- Rev. Code Wash. (ARCW) § 7.94.090
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.171. See Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.173 for alien firearm license requirements.
- See Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.175.
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.94.040(1), (2).
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.350.
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.350(1).
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.350(2).
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.330.
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.333.
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 43.43.822.