Skip to Main Content
Last updated .

In 2014, Washington became the first state to enact a law requiring background checks on private sales by voter initiative.1 The law requires private buyers and sellers to conduct a firearms transaction through a federally licensed firearm dealer (FFL). The FFL must process the transaction as if the dealer were selling the firearm from his or her own inventory and comply with all federal and state laws regulating firearms dealers, such as performing the required background check on the purchaser (see the Washington Background Checks section).2

Some transfers between non-licensed sellers and buyers are exempt from the background check requirement including:3

  • Bona fide gift transfers between spouses, domestic partners, parents, parents-in-law, children, siblings, siblings-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, first cousins, aunts, and uncles;
  • Transfers of antique firearms;
  • Transfers to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm so long as the temporary transfer lasts only as long as immediately necessary to prevent such imminent death or great bodily harm. The transferee must not prohibited from possessing firearms under state or federal law;
  • Transfers to certain law enforcement agencies or officers who are acting within the course and scope of their employment or official duties;
  • A transfer to or from a federally licensed gunsmith who receives a firearm solely for the purposes of service or repair;
  • Certain types of temporary transfers such as those between spouses or domestic partners or at a shooting range; and
  • As of July 23, 2017, temporary transfers if: (i) The transfer is intended to prevent suicide or self-inflicted great bodily harm; (ii) the transfer lasts only as long as reasonably necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm; and (iii) the firearm is not utilized by the transferee for any purpose for the duration of the temporary transfer.

The FFL may not transfer the firearm to the purchaser until either the purchaser clears the background check or ten business days have elapsed from the date the FFL requested the background check, whichever occurs first.4 For transfers of handguns to individuals without valid Washington driver’s licenses or state identification card or who have not been a resident of the state for the previous consecutive ninety days, the FFL may not deliver the handgun until the transferee passes a background check or 60 days have elapsed since the date of the request, whichever occurs first.5

When a Washington resident buys a long gun out-of-state, or sells a long gun to an out-of-state resident, the buyer and seller must follow the procedures of the background checks law.6 FFLs may not sell or deliver a handgun to a resident of another state.7 (See our Dealer Regulations federal policy summary  for a comprehensive discussion of laws regulating federally licensed firearms dealers.) 


Our experts can speak to the full spectrum of gun violence prevention issues. Have a question? Email us at

  1. See Initiative Measure No. 594, available at[]
  2. Rev. Code Wash. § 9.41.113.[]
  3. Rev. Code Wash. § 9.41.113(4).[]
  4. Rev. Code Wash. § 9.41.113.[]
  5. Id.[]
  6. Id.[]
  7. 18 U.S.C. § 922(b)(1), (3).[]