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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Reporting lost or stolen firearms passes the House, provoking contentious debate between parties

The House of Representatives convenes for a floor debate Feb. 13, 2024, in Olympia, Wash.   (Lauren Rendahl / The Spokesman-Review)

Failure to report a lost or stolen gun to police within 24 hours could rack up a hefty bill for gun owners if a controversial bill approved by the House becomes law.

Gun owners would have to pay up to $1,000 in fines if law enforcement isn’t notified of their missing or stolen firearm, igniting a heated debate over amendments and components of the bill late Friday night.

This “common sense public safety measure” is Democratic Rep. Liz Berry’s solution to preventing crime and continuing the fight to end gun violence.

The number one source of stolen guns is parked cars. Nearly 380,000 firearms are stolen across the country each year, and in 2020 over half of those came from car robberies. Firearms are then trafficked, sold illegally and used in crimes including kidnapping, armed robbery and murder, said Berry , who represents Seattle.

“It gives our enforcement the opportunity to investigate and identify patterns of gun trafficking,” she said. “It’ll make our communities safer.”

Across the aisle, House Republicans disagreed.

“The fatal flaw of this proposal is that it revictimizes someone who’s already been victimized,” said Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen.

He noted the importance of lawmakers working to reduce crime but cautioned against painting gun ownership in a negative light to address the issue. He urged them to explore ways to positively deter criminal behavior, instead of punishing gun owners who are victims of theft.

“I think the real problem is, why are we allowing people to break into cars?” said Rep. Leonard Christian, R-Spokane Valley, asking lawmakers why they’re going after gun owners instead of the people committing crimes.

To try and get behind the bill, Republicans proposed three amendments, all of which were rejected.

The first suggested altering the reporting time from 24 hours to one business day. It also aimed to provide clarity by defining “loss” as the gun being in an unknown location and not under the owner’s control.

Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla, said the significance of distinguishing between a loss and a lost item is to aid law enforcement in identifying when a firearm is unlawfully in someone else’s possession. The proposed time change sought to accommodate smaller law enforcement agencies that may not be open on weekends.

The second amendment proposed to lengthen the mandatory reporting period even further, changing the 24-hour mark to seven days.

Suppose someone were to take a vacation for a couple of weeks and come home to find their weapons stolen, Christian said. They’d be on the hook for not reporting within 24 hours and would be faced with a fine.

“A week is too long. In three days, the trail has gone cold. By seven days, the trail is frozen over,” said Rep. Darya Farivar, D-Seattle.

The final proposal suggested swapping the $1,000 fine with a firearm bounty program. Instead of penalizing someone for a lost or stolen gun, this proposal aimed to encourage people to submit information to law enforcement so they could locate a lost or stolen gun used in a crime.

If adopted, a $500 reward would have been offered for information relating to the location of a lost or stolen firearm used in a crime, increasing to $5,000 if the information resulted in a conviction.

“We need to find ways to get to the people who are actually committing the crimes and take those guns off the street,” said Rep. Travis Couture, R-Allyn. “What better way to do it … than to incentivize people to lead law enforcement to those firearms.”

The bill passed the House of Representatives on a mainly partisan 57-40 vote, with Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles the lone Democrat voting against it.

When filing a missing or stolen gun report, the owner must provide the firearm’s caliber, make, model, manufacturer and serial number, alongside any identification mark on the gun. They must also detail the circumstances of the loss or theft including the date, place and how it happened.

Law enforcement is then required to input this information into the National Crime Information Center database.

The bill moves to the Senate before potentially reaching Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.