The state of Washington passed a gun law in the recent election which is already having unintended consequences.
With the passage of Initiative I-594, background checks are required, with few exceptions, for all sales or transfers of firearms. A small museum, the Lynden Pioneer Museum, is currently displaying World War II-era rifles which are on loan to the museum from collectors. The exhibit was to run through May 1, 2015. After reading the text of the law many times, the museum director decided the rifles have to be returned to their owners before December 4. That’s when the law goes into effect. As the law is written the director believes the museum would have to do background checks on the people who loaned them the guns, i.e., the people who own the guns, if the guns are returned after December 4. It would be a “transfer”.
The law is not retroactive, meaning Lynden’s museum, which has one full time employee, would not immediately have to have any background checks performed.
However, the museum said it was concerned about the financial burden of having to perform background checks before it could return the weapons to their owners after the exhibit ends next May.
The museum’s attorney told Luginbill the board had two choices: Comply with the law or challenge it. The board decided not to take a chance.
“We have elected to comply with the law as we understand it,” Luginbill said in an interview on Monday, Nov. 17. “The ideal situation would be if someone comes along from the state and says, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ If that happens before May 1, we can put the guns back on display.”
Supporters of the law say it was intended to keep criminals from buying guns at gun shows. The museum has nothing to worry about.
“This is clearly not what was concerned when I-594 was designed,” Potter said. “You can’t craft every possibility into every law. We think they can go forward with the exhibit, and we hope they will.”
The state Attorney General says he hasn’t figured out the law yet so he can’t give an opinion on this situation. Best to take it literally he says.
As the philosopher Plato noted, “good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws”. While the director of a small museum in Washington agonizes over the meaning of the law, the criminals won’t give a damn what it says.