Passage of the Brady bill last year sent people flocking to gun shops and stores to buy weapons before stricter rules took effect, and the ensuing paperwork is swamping state workers responsible for gun registration.
Though the state of Washington already had a five-day waiting period, many people descended on gun shops thinking the federal law would increase restrictions on gun purchases.
“The public perception is that they won’t be able to get them in the future, so they’re purchasing them now - even handguns,” said Bellevue police Lt. Jack McDonald.
As a result, 130,000 handguns were bought in Washington last year - a state record. Thousands of gun buyers also sought concealed-weapons permits or replaced missing permits - documents the state Department of Licensing also enters into its computer system.
“It was the best thing they’ve ever done for the firearms retailer,” said Jim Dubell, co-owner of Delta Gun Shop in Colville.
Dubell’s shop, which sells guns in the $1,200 to $11,000 price range, specializes in custom orders for hunting and target competition. At one point, Delta customers who wanted to order guns and accessories had to wait months until national suppliers filled backlogs for parts, ammunition and weapons.
“It’s gotten to the point that the big panic is over and people are settling down. But five or six months ago, everyone was deciding to get a gun because they thought they wouldn’t be able to get one soon,” Dubell said.
The backlog of paperwork has meant months of delay in getting the information from handgun registrations to police and other state officials.
The crush has hamstrung a state law mandating documentation of handgun buyers to ensure an up-to-date database for police, according to officials cited by The Seattle Times.
It will be months before authorities learn anything about last year’s gun purchases, the newspaper reported Wednesday. Records for more than 70,000 handguns bought at commercial gun stores in 1994 are sitting in boxes at the Department of Licensing in Olympia.
In addition, handguns purchased nearly a year ago have not been added to the computer list because the three employees charged with recording the transactions have been inundated by other work, officials said.
A state database listing includes the name of the dealer who first sold the weapon, the handgun serial number and information about the person who bought it.
A spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said the state computer list is the first place it sends local police for handgun information.
But the current system does little for investigative work, said Steve Perry, an Edmonds Police Department supervisor. When police seize a weapon and check its serial number, the state computer often yields nothing, Perry said.
But few law-enforcement agencies actually request gun information, said Pat Brown, administrator in charge of the firearms section at the state Department of Licensing.
When authorities requesting information are met with “no records found,” Brown said, it could be because the gun was purchased in another state or at a gun show. Those transactions are not part of the computer database.