Possession of firearm after voluntarily waiving rights now penalized with civil infraction

OLYMPIA, Wash., March 27, 2023—People with mental health issues and those who might consider suicide sometimes voluntarily give up their right to possess guns by filing a voluntary waiver of their firearm rights with the clerk of the court of any county within the state. Under SB-5006 filing such a waiver would be allowed electronically and revoking the waiver would trigger notification of a friend or relative and result in a class 4 civil infraction of unlawful possession of a firearm if the firearm is in their possession.

The bill, cosponsored by Senator Jamie Pederson, D-Seattle, passed the Senate in February and on Friday, March 24, passed the House with 61-35 votes. The bill now awaits signature by Governor Jay Inslee.

The civil infraction has a maximum penalty of $25 and each unlawfully owned firearm would count for a separate infraction under the bill. The infraction was added because the FBI doesn’t keep waivers in the background check system if no infraction exists.

“We took the absolute lightest penalty that we could find, which is a $25 civil infraction, and put it in,” Pederson said, to satisfy FBI requirements. “While we were doing that, we made some additional changes that are based on five years of experience with how the voluntary waiver program is working.”

Diane Studley, former school district arts program coordinator, said her parents committed double suicide in 1996. 

“I don’t know for sure if a voluntary waiver of these rights for having a firearm would have saved my parents from their double suicide,” she said. “I do know for sure that it is horrific to have your loved ones blow their brains out.”

The option to file electronically will eliminate some barriers for some of the most vulnerable people, and a therapist or family member can be alerted if a person attempts to purchase a firearm or revoke the waiver, she said.

Mental health and substance use disorder professionals would be encouraged to discuss a voluntary waiver of firearm rights with their patients if they believe the discussion will minimize danger to the patient or another individual, but they would not be required to do so. 

Pederson said SSB 5006 is a useful suicide prevention tool because a person who has concerns about their mental health would be able to put themselves on a do-not-purchase list. 

If that person goes to a gun shop to purchase a firearm in a moment of crisis, they will come up as a prohibited purchaser, he said. 

Aoibheann Cline, National Rifle Association state director, said the threat of legal trouble or a fine might discourage a person from waiving their rights.

“The immediate effectiveness of the waiver appears to be an unintended trap,” she said. “There is no grace period or lag time to surrender guns without committing a violation under this bill. This notice process seems backwards.”

RELATED ARTICLE: House passes bill prohibiting sale of assault weapons in Washington

Alexandria Osborne: The Washington State Journal is a non-profit news website funded by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Learn more at wastatejournal.org.

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