Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Law More Perfect

This year, here in Washington State, we're going to have dueling ballot initiative around firearms. I've read them both, and between them, they're about 19 pages. About 18 of which are from Initiative 594, "Washington Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases." The description of I 594, is follows: "This measure would apply 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."

How that relatively straightforward sentence became 18 pages of legalese is illustrative, as it really lays out the difficulties inherent in "closing loopholes in the law." Generally speaking, I understand the purpose behind criminals laws to be establishing a recognized avenue for sanctioning persons who engage in certain behavior that the populace (or its recognized representatives) have decided are undesirable. While this seems like a simple enough process, it runs into problems when intent is to be taken into account, and when it's hard to look at an act in a vacuum and decide whether or not it's one of the certain undesirable behaviors that has been legislated against.

The opponents of I 594 (many of whom support the counter-initiative, I 591) are correct when they point out that a lot of seemingly innocuous activities may count as "transfers" under the new law and may therefore be criminal under the letter of the law. And from my reading of the law, they're correct when they point out that loaning your sister-in-law a gun to protect herself, loaning your adult sons shotguns to go hunting or a police officer loaning a personal firearm to a fellow officer would all run afoul of the restrictions on transfers. In fact, I can think if a circumstance in which I took a gun from a friend who was having an acute mental health crisis for safekeeping that would, if this law went through, likely require a background check and moving the weapon through a licensed dealer. It would all be terribly inconvenient (although I suspect that the police wouldn't bother arresting me for that). And so I understand the issues that gun-rights activists have with this law. But part of their argument is the following:

We deserve the protection of a well-written background check law that protects the right of privacy for lawful firearms owners.
So, I would ask, what's stopping them from writing it?

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