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Sunday, August 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Funding needed for gun sale database

The latest information Washington law enforcement officers can retrieve from the state’s gun sale database dates to 2014. Since then, gun dealers have sold thousands more handguns.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs says more current information is essential. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, in a white paper released Oct. 31, recommended the state ensure information on handgun sales be timely and accurate.

State lawmakers should stop ignoring the problem.

The Legislature has repeatedly balked at appropriating money to eliminate the backlog. But this year, instead of proposing the remedial work be done in-house, the Department of Licensing is asking $382,250 to have a private firm input the data.

The proposal not only represents a savings against the $571,000 DOL says it would take to keep the work in-house, it should also soothe Republicans reluctant to increase state payroll even temporarily.

The private contractor will be required to finish updating the state database by the end of 2017. The backlog stood at 327,000-plus handgun sales in September, but will increase until the contractor finishes the work.

DOL says it will be able to keep up thereafter.

Longer term, the department and Washington gun dealers have to move to a paperless system. Despite the availability of electronic filing, 85 percent of the transactions are submitted on paper.

Images taken of the paper forms submitted by dealers cannot be indexed, so they cannot be searched.

Dealers complain electronic filing is unreliable and not user-friendly. Some information, for example, must be entered more than once.

Although the department anticipates installation of an upgraded computer system to eliminate these problems, that solution is likely years away.

In the meantime, legislators tempted to stall on the backlog problem for another year should be looking over their shoulders. Everytown for Gun Safety, the anti-gun group, could see the lack of legislative action as an opportunity to get state voters involved.

The group’s previous proposals – Initiatives 594 in 2014 and 1491 this year – passed overwhelmingly.

Lawmakers could go further than just appropriating money for catch-up data inputs.

The federal government is expanding a program that will allow Native American tribes to use its criminal databases. The state should do likewise, perhaps preventing an incident like the 2014 school shooting in Marysville. A tribal court ruling that the shooter’s father not have guns was never entered into state or federal databases.

Although DOL collects the information, the State Patrol controls access.

And privatization may be a cuss word in Olympia, but someone should ask why a contractor – by the department’s own estimates – can do the data entry at less cost than possible in-house.

No matter whether public or private employees get the job, the backlog must go.

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