The phone at Wade’s Eastside Guns started ringing at 8:30 a.m. the morning after the election.
“The response to this is always classic,” said owner Wade Gaughran about Tuesday’s decisive passage of Initiative 1639, one of the country’s most stringent sets of gun regulations. “People will buy guns to beat the deadline.”
Starting next year, Initiative 1639 will raise the purchase age for semi-automatic rifles to 21, the age currently required for handgun purchases under federal law. People buying semiautomatic rifles will be required to pass an enhanced background check, prove they have taken a firearms-training course and wait 10 business days to take possession of the gun.
The initiative also authorizes the state to require gun sellers to add $25 to sales of semiautomatic rifles to fund the new regulations. A “safe storage” provision makes it possible that gun owners could face criminal penalties in some instances if their firearms are accessed by someone who is not legally allowed to have them, like a child or felon, and who then causes the gun to discharge or uses it in a crime. The provision doesn’t apply if the gun was secured with a trigger lock or similar device or if the owner had reported it stolen within five days of the theft.
Gun sellers who spoke to the Seattle Times said they expect an increase in sales of semiautomatic rifles and possibly gun safes, but it’s too early to say just how significant that increase might be.
“We have seen an uptick in sales since the passing of the law and expect it to continue,” Jody Lewis, owner of Rehv Arms in Covington, said in an email.
Two days after I-1639’s passage – and the day after a gunman in California killed 12 people, then himself – staff at Wade’s tended to a steady trickle of customers. Behind the counter, the wall was lined with an array of semiautomatic rifles that will be affected by the new law. A customer picking up an AR-10 he had ordered a few weeks earlier called I-1639 vague and poorly written. Above the door, a sign asked customers in bold black and red letters: “You just bought your gun. How do you plan to LOCK IT UP?”
“We will see people speed up their gun purchases,” Gaughran said in an interview earlier that day. “[Buyers will say] ‘I’ll buy the next year or two of my gun budget in the next few months just so I can bypass this law for as long as possible.’ ”
Tallman Trask, a spokesman for the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which advocated for the initiative, said his organization acknowledges that new regulations can sometimes lead to increased sales but argues I-1639 will not lead to onerous restrictions on gun purchases.
“What it really boils down to is people are a little unsure of how to respond to new regulations and they go out and buy new firearms,” Trask said. “It’s unfortunate.”
Gun dealers said they’re also awaiting clarity from state regulators on certain elements of the new law, including the training requirement. Gaughran said his store may develop a “quick test” to administer at the counter or online.
The law states buyers must show they’ve completed a “recognized firearm safety training program” in the last five years that covers issues like handling, storage and suicide prevention. The training must be sponsored by a law enforcement agency, college or university, nationally recognized organization or firearms training school.
Whatever uptick in sales local gun sellers see from I-1639 could be tempered by national trends. Nationwide, the election of President Donald Trump had reportedly caused an ongoing slump in gun sales.
Jason Cazes, owner of LowPriceGuns.com in Bellevue, said he increased his inventory in anticipation of a Hillary Clinton presidency.
“Here’s what drives sales in the gun business: the possibility of regulation coming or fear in the world,” Cazes said. “This summer was the worst summer I’ve ever had in sales.”
In Tacoma, Bruce Smith, manager of Surplus Ammo and Arms, said he’s seen a small increase in business and questions from customers since Tuesday’s election, but “it hasn’t been crazy because it’s not federal.”
“Everyone knows or is pretty inclined to think that under Trump there is probably not going to be federal legislation, so it’s going to be a state-by-state thing,” Smith said. “The panic isn’t there. The stress isn’t there.”
Information from the AP and the Seattle Times archives was used in this report.
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