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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

New I-1639 rules for buying a semi-automatic rifle start today

Buying a semi-automatic rifle in Washington will have new restrictions, take more time and require proof of having taken a safety course, starting today.

Initiative 1639, which passed last November with nearly 60% of the statewide vote, had some provisions that started in January, with others scheduled to kick in July 1. They take effect despite efforts in court to overturn the law and threats by some local law enforcement officials not to enforce its provisions.

A person who thought about buying a semi-automatic rifle on Sunday, but didn’t go to a gun dealer until today, will discover that the following things have changed overnight:

The minimum age for purchasing a semi-automatic rifle went from 18 to 21.

The required background check became the more comprehensive check, one that is used when purchasing a handgun.

A buyer must show proof of having attended a state-approved class on safe use and storage of the firearm.

The initiative was controversial, and failed in every Eastern Washington county except Spokane and Whitman. Some sheriffs in those counties which rejected it have said they believe it’s unconstitutional and won’t enforce it.

But Stevens County Sheriff Brad Manke, who is among those who said he wouldn’t enforce the law, said his office will conduct the more extensive background checks required for semi-automatic rifle purchases starting today. He said those are primarily administrative issues, not enforcement issues.

His deputies won’t be issuing citations or making custodial arrests for most suspected violations, short of an obviously mentally ill person under 21 displaying a semi-automatic rifle in a dangerous manner, Manke said. But they’d likely do that regardless of I-1639, he added.

It will be up to gun dealers to ensure that the purchaser is at least 21 and has proof of having attended a safety class before requesting the background check. The extended check takes about 20 minutes of staff time, but can be delayed for days while a law enforcement office waits for information on mental health from other agencies.

Because a new purchaser will have to find a certified class and take it, Manke said he’s not expecting a big increase in requests for extensive background checks right away.

Courses are available at different times and locations – and for prices ranging from $35 to $178, based on a recent internet search.

Sportsman’s Warehouse in Spokane Valley offered a course Sunday conducted by an outside company for $67, or a buddy rate of $109 for two.

“We’re getting a lot of interest in it,” manager Brian Carpenter said Friday, and the store will continue to schedule the I-1639 course along with “a litany of different courses” the outside company offers.

Semi-automatic rifle sales leading up to the start of the new requirements have been steady, he said.

Among other provisions of I-1639 effective today, anyone who fails to securely store a gun can be charged with a felony if someone who is not allowed to possess a gun uses it to kill or injure themselves or another person.