Gun Violence in Washington State

Support for the Second Amendment goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns away from criminals and other dangerous people. Research shows that common-sense public safety laws reduce gun violence and save lives. This fact sheet brings together the findings of Everytown’s original investigations and analyses of relevant law enforcement and public health data to illuminate trends in gun violence and crime in Washington State prior to the passage of I-594 in November 2014.

THE TOLL OF GUN VIOLENCE

In the last decade of available data, 1,178 Washington residents were murdered with guns, and an additional 4,449 died in firearm suicides or accidents.Centers for Disease Control, “WISQARS” (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System),” available at http://1.usa.gov/VTdKK9 (last accessed June 2014). Fully half of suicides in the state were committed with guns.Ibid.

A significant share of gun violence is committed by dangerous people who never should have had a gun in the first place. At least 61 percent of Washington law enforcement officers who were shot to death between 1980 and 2014 were killed by individuals who were prohibited from possessing firearms.Everytown for Gun Safety analysis of FBI data and press clippings, August 2014, available at: http://act.everytown.org/signup/WA-Officers-Down/

A large number of Washington guns end up in the wrong hands, making Washington a major source of crime guns recovered in other states in the region. Between 2006-13, 1,955 guns originally purchased in Washington were recovered by law enforcement in California, as were 1,018 in Oregon.Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) trace data, available at: http://1.usa.gov/1stn8HY

The share of Washington State crime guns that were likely trafficked increased by nearly 50 percent between 2006 and 2013. A gun is considered to have been trafficked if it has a short “time-to-crime,” meaning it was recovered by law enforcement at a crime scene less than two years after its original sale by a licensed dealer.“Criminals are exploiting loopholes in Washington State Law More and More,” Everytown for Gun Safety, available at http://bit.ly/1uP9axe.

PREVENTING GUN VIOLENCE

For 20 years, federal law has required licensed gun dealers to conduct a background check for every firearm purchase.

In Washington State alone, the background check system has blocked 40,976 gun sales to prohibited people, including 24,028 to felons and 6,227 people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or people subject to domestic violence protection orders.“40,976 Reasons to Expand Background Checks in Washington State,” Everytown for Gun Safety, available at http://bit.ly/1tL2oeM.

Criteria  Total  Share 
Convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years 24,028 58.6%
State Prohibitor 4,765 11.6%
Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence Conviction 3,375 8.2%
Protection/Restraining Order for Domestic Violence 2,852 7.0%
Unlawful User/Addicted to a Controlled Substance 2,296 5.6%
Fugitive from Justice or Under Indictment 2,230 5.4%
Adjudicated Mental Health 1,037 2.5%
Other (including Illegal/Unlawful Alien, Federally Denied Persons File, Dishonorable Discharge, and Renounced US Citizenship) 393 1.1%
TOTAL 40,976  

 

LOOPHOLES IN GUN LAWS UNDERMINE PUBLIC SAFETY

Background checks are the only systematic way to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. But under current law in most of the country, background checks are only required for gun sales at licensed dealers. An estimated 40 percent of gun transfers take place between unlicensed, “private” parties — often at gun shows or through anonymous online transactions — and are not subject to a background check.Philip J. Cook & Jens Ludwig, Guns in America, 1996, available at http://bit.ly/1oUbySr, 2,568 individuals, including 251 gun owners, were surveyed by telephone and asked how they obtained their firearms.

This loophole in our background checks system is especially dangerous considering the vast, virtual gun show that now exists on the internet. Dozens of websites—like Armslist.com, the self-described Craigslist for guns—each host tens of thousands of ads for unlicensed gun sales and provides a forum for strangers to connect and arrange offline gun transfers, just like Craigslist does for furniture sales and concert tickets. An Everytown investigation of online gun sales in Washington State showed that unlicensed sellers posted 16,739 gun ads over a twenty-week period on just five websites — a rate of more than 44,000 gun ads posted a year.Everytown for Gun Safety, Online and Off the Record, September 2014, available at http://washington.everytown.org

Prior to the passage of I-594, a background check was not required for these sales—and criminals were taking full advantage of this loophole. The Everytown investigation showed that 1 in 10 prospective online gun buyers had committed crimes that prohibited them from possessing guns, including individuals charged with rape and convicted of assaulting police officers. Just five Washington websites facilitated an estimated 4,400 gun sales each year to dangerous people who are prohibited from owning guns.Ibid.

BACKGROUND CHECKS SAVE LIVES

Expanding and strengthening the background check system is a proven way to prevent gun violence. Recognizing the danger posed by allowing unlicensed sales without background checks, in November 2014, voters in Washington state voted to require background checks on all gun sales, including those facilitated online. In states that require a background check for all handgun sales, there are:

Everytown Analysis of FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Data, 2010, available at http://bit.ly/1hAySn8. Everytown for Gun Safety analysis of FBI data, March 2013, available at http://bit.ly/1hAySn8. Daniel Webster, Jon Vernick, & Maria Bulzacchelli, “Effects of State-Level Firearm Seller Accountability Policies on Firearm Trafficking,” Journal of Urban Health (July 2009). To gauge gun trafficking, the authors measured the ratio of likely trafficked guns recovered from crime scenes to the total of guns recovered. A “likely trafficked gun” was defined as having been recovered at a crime scene and not in the possession of its original purchaser within one year of its last legal sale.

Meeting at a licensed gun dealer to complete a background check is easy. There are 1,103 federally licensed gun dealers in Washington StateBureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, available at http://1.usa.gov/1ps0dJa (last accessed May 2014) — twice the number of post offices and nearly 4 times the number of McDonald’s — and 98 percent of Washington residents live within 10 miles of one of them.Everytown for Gun Safety, January 2013, available at: http://bit.ly/V271BA

Eight out of 10 Washington residents – as well as 74 percent of NRA membersLuntz Global, Gun Owners Poll for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, July 2012, available at http://every.tw/luntz and 55 percent of licensed gun dealersGaren J. Wintemute, Support for a comprehensive background check requirement and expanded denial criteria for Firearm Transfers: Findings from the Firearms Licensee Survey, 91(2) J Urban Health, (April 2014). – support requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales.