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Shooting range co-owner says I-1639 won’t stop gang shootings

I-1639 will require gun owners to lock up their firearms or face penalties. (AP)

New firearm law I-1639, which passed in last November’s general election, goes into effect July 1 — but according to some residents, its only effect will be on law-abiding residents who already practice gun safety measures.

The law enacts some of the strictest gun control measures in the nation. It raises the age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21; establishes mandatory background checks, training courses, and waiting periods before the purchase of semi-automatic rifles; and mandates that gun owners lock their firearms in a safe, or else face criminal charges if an un-stored firearm is stolen and used in the commission of a crime.

John Holschen, who co-owns shooting range West Coast Armory North in Everett, has taught gun safety classes for 25 years. Now he teaches I-1639 safety compliance classes, but called the classes, for the most part, “preaching to the choir”

“Ninety percent of it is the stuff that we’ve been teaching all along,” he said. “Gun owner responsibilities — that’s something that we grew up with.”

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For instance, he has always told people never to buy a gun until they have a secure way to store it.

“You can tell the people who wrote [the law] really didn’t know much about firearms,” Holschen said.

He explained that the new law defines all semi-automatic rifles — even small game hunting rifles like a .22 — as assault weapons.

“When you pull the trigger, part of the energy of that shot is used to extract the firing case and load a new case in,” he said. “That’s all [semi-automatic] means. Then you have to pull the trigger again to get it to go off. You pull the trigger for each shot.”

According to I-1639, purchasers of semi-automatic rifles will have to sign a permanent waiver of confidentiality for physical and mental health records.

“There is no mechanism to retract that waver — even if you decide to sell the gun, the state has still got that waiver,” Holschen said. “And you will be in a database.”

The Washington State Department of Licensing and Washington State Patrol will also have to review the eligibility of every firearm owner — including handgun owners — annually. Holschen questioned what will happen when any ineligible firearm owners are notified of their status.

“Is that going to be a polite letter saying, ‘Hey, are you still in possession of these? Prove that you sold or got rid of them?'” he asked. “Or is it going to be a SWAT raid?”

One of the biggest controversies of I-1639 has been the secure storage provision. If a gun owner fails to safely lock away their firearm and someone steals it, then uses it to commit a crime, the gun owner can be criminally charged.

If the gun is stolen when your house is burglarized, you are protected through the law’s unlawful entry provision, Holschen explained. But the unlawful entry provision would not apply to roommates, guests, or even repair workers, who all enter the house by invitation.

“What this person who stole your gun does with it will dictate what you’re guilty of under the new law,” Holschen said. “If they harm themselves or anyone else with that firearm, you’re guilty of a felony. If they even discharge the firearm, you’re guilty of a gross misdemeanor.”

This means that if the guest of a person’s roommate took the person’s un-stored gun and committed suicide with it, the gun owner would now face a felony.

It’s ridiculous, Holschen said, to believe that the new gun law will have any real effect on gang warfare in the region. After all, he asked, would someone willing to commit murder really stop short of violating gun laws?

He recommends that anyone who wants and has made the proper preparations to buy a firearm does so before the law goes into effect July 1.

“It appears to be the agenda was simply to make gun ownership as difficult as possible, for the law-abiding,” he said.

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