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Washington’s firearm database lags behind sales

Associated Press

EVERETT – The Washington firearms database is missing information from thousands of handgun sales as the state struggles to keep up with the speed of purchases.

The Department of Licensing began November with a backlog of 106,000 pistol transfers to enter into the database, which is used by city, county and state authorities to find owners of handguns that turn up during investigations, the Daily Herald reported Sunday.

Last week, employees in the state agency were handling purchases made in March.

The department is asking the governor and lawmakers for $409,000 in next year’s supplemental budget to hire several part-timers to clear the paperwork.

Spokeswoman Christine Anthony said the licensing department is required by law to keep the database up to date.

“We see this as a public safety issue that law enforcement should be able to access this information from their vehicle,” she said.

While it doesn’t appear the backlog has become problematic, law enforcement leaders want it rectified because the database is heavily used.

Officers from city, county and state law enforcement agencies tapped into it 1.7 million times in 2012. And most were unaware it lacked information on thousands of gun sales.

“It is very important to us. We certainly want it updated as much as possible,” said Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

There are five full-time employees in the department’s Firearms Program who enter data, deal with applicants for handgun licenses and answer questions from firearm dealers.

They also input information on people obtaining or renewing concealed pistol licenses and those who cannot legally possess a gun because they are deemed mentally unfit, Anthony said.

The agency is up to date in both those categories, she said.

Neither sales of rifles and long guns nor records of private handgun sales are part of the database unless the sellers turn in paperwork on their own.

The backlog is attributed to a near-tripling of handgun sales in seven years.

In 2006, licensed firearm dealers sold 67,739 pistols. In 2012, handgun sales totaled 170,792, and the licensing department entered 66,528 into the system. This year, sales through mid-November already exceed last year’s total.

Barker said he wasn’t surprised to hear the agency had fallen months behind but doesn’t think any investigations have been affected.

“If you weren’t aware of the backlog, you wouldn’t know it’s a problem,” he said. “But if they are that far behind with a database that we access that often, it is a problem.”

The lack of complaints about the backlog is a good reason to get rid of the database, said a leader of a national gun rights group based in Bellevue.

“They are so far behind, there isn’t any real usefulness to it,” said Alan Gottlieb, of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. “We’re told tracing stolen guns is a reason to have it. The ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) gun tracing center has better data anyway.”

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