Today Everytown for Gun Safety released a new analysis of FBI data showing that the federal background check system is working in Washington State, blocking more than 40,000 gun sales to prohibited purchasers since 1998 including at least 24,000 gun sales to felons and more than 6,000 gun sales to domestic abusers. Everytown’s analysis also shows that the share of denied gun purchases fell by half between 2000 and 2013, suggesting that criminals may be seeking guns from unlicensed sellers—such as in transactions online, at gun shows and even in parking lots from strangers—to evade background checks. Initiative 594, the Washington State ballot measure to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, would close the background check loophole that allows these prohibited purchasers to get their hands on guns. Today’s analysis, available online here, is the first of a number of Washington-specific reports on background checks to be released by Everytown in coming days.
Since 1998, federal law has required licensed gun dealers to conduct a background check for every firearm purchase. Prospective gun buyers are screened against the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which blocks gun sales to those people deemed too dangerous to possess firearms under federal law—including felons, domestic abusers, and the severely mentally ill.
Details of the Analysis
Today’s analysis from Everytown shows that since 1998 the federal background check system has blocked 40,976 gun sales to prohibited people in Washington State, including 24,028 gun sales to felons and 6,227 gun sales to people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or subject to domestic violence protection orders. The numbers of denials by each category are listed in an appendix to this release.
Between 1998 and 2013, the number of background checks conducted each year in Washington has increased, reflecting an increase in the number of gun sales by licensed firearm dealers. The background check system blocked more gun sales to prohibited Washington buyers in 2013 than in any previous year.
However, between 2000 and 2013, the share of total background checks denied fell by more than half, from 1.6% to 0.7%. This is consistent with the hypothesis that criminals are increasingly aware that a background check will block them from buying guns at licensed dealers—and are seeking guns from unlicensed sellers online and at gun
shows, where no background checks are required under current law. In a September 2013 investigation of illegal online gun sales, Felon Seeks Firearm, Everytown found that 1 in 30 people seeking guns from unlicensed sellers on the national website Armslist.com had a criminal record or domestic violence history that prohibited gun ownership. This is nearly four times the share of people seeking firearms at licensed dealers who are prohibited and blocked by the background check system.
The number of gun transfers conducted in Washington without a background check is unknown, but national surveys of private firearm ownership suggest that some 40 percent of gun transfers are conducted between parties that would not be subject to a background check under current law.
Closing the Background Check Loophole in Washington State: Initiative 594
In November, Washington State voters will have a chance to close this loophole by voting Yes on Initiative 594. Initiative 594 would apply the currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions. Under Initiative 594, everyone in Washington would be required to pass the same background check, regardless of where they buy a gun and from whom they buy it.
“Everytown’s analysis proves what we already know: That Washington’s existing background check system is working, with gun sales to more than 40,000 prohibited purchasers, including at least 24,000 felons and more than 6,000 domestic abusers, already blocked,” said Eileen Bennhoff, a member of the Washington chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “Still, with prohibited gun purchasers continuing to buy guns illegally through unlicensed sellers—such as online, at gun shows or from strangers in parking lots—we can do more to keep our kids, schools and communities safer from gun violence by voting Yes on Initiative 594 this fall. Initiative 594 will close the dangerous loophole in Washington’s background check system by making sure everyone undergoes the same background check when buying a gun—regardless of where they buy it and who they buy it from.”
Method and Appendix — Full Data
The data, which was obtained from the FBI by Everytown through a Freedom of Information Act request, analyzed the number of gun sales in Washington State that were denied between 1998 and 2013, by type and over time.
Paid for by Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund for I-594; PO Box 21214, Seattle, WA 98111.
Top contributors: Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund.