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Washington Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases, Initiative 594 (2014)

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Washington Initiative 594
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Type:Initiative to the Legislature
Referred by:Citizens
Status:On the ballot
2014 measures
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November 4
Initiative 594
Initiative 591
Advisory Vote No. 8
Advisory Vote No. 9
Initiative 1351
EndorsementsFull text
Local measures
The Washington Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases, Initiative 594 is on the November 4, 2014 ballot in the state of Washington as an Initiative to the Legislature.

If approved by voters, the measure would require background checks to be run on every person purchasing a gun in the state of Washington, even those who are doing so via private sales. However, transfers of antique guns and those between immediate family members would be exempt from the background checks. The measure also requires that dealers who are facilitating gun transfers, be they through the licensed dealer or a private seller, receive confirmation in writing from the chief of police or sheriff that the purchaser in question "is eligible to possess a pistol [...] and that the application to purchase is approved by the chief of police or sheriff." Furthermore, the initiative would render it illegal to hand off a firearm to people outside a person's immediate family, though exceptions are mentioned, including situations in which people are at a shooting range or hunting.[1][2]

Text of measure

The certified ballot title reads as follows:[2]

This measure would apply currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions.

Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ][3]


Current law requires criminal and public safety background checks before purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer. This measure would extend this requirement to most firearm purchases and transfers in Washington, with exceptions, including transfers within families, temporary transfers for self-defense and hunting, and antiques. Licensed dealers would conduct the background checks and could charge a fee. Violation of these requirements would be a crime.[4]

The measure will also criminalize, with few exceptions, all temporary transfers of possession of firearms that do not involve purchases, such as for safekeeping, hunting, loan, recreational sharing, safety training, coaching, transport, etc.[5]


Currently, background checks in Washington state are required only for sales by licensed firearm dealers. Therefore, background checks do not apply to private gun sales. Opponents to I-594 filed a competing initiative, I-591, which seeks to prevent the government from confiscating firearms without due process and implementing background checks deemed more stringent than those at the federal level.[4][6]



Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility is leading the campaign in support of the initiative.[7]



  • Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility[7]
  • Washington Cease Fire
  • United Methodist Church
  • Faith Action Network
  • Jewish Council for Public Affairs
  • Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center
  • Washington State Catholic Conference[8]


  • The largest law enforcement organization in the state, the Washington Association of Police and Sheriffs, opposes the initiative.[9][10] Their reasons include:
1) That WACOPS, as an organization of law enforcement officers, does not believe that I-594 will keep guns out of the hands of the criminal or the mentally ill. WACOPS believes such persons will continue to ignore the law and engage in black market transactions.
2) That responsibility for enforcing this law – conducting background checks, investigating and arresting citizens who do not comply – will fall on law enforcement, diverting already scarce resources.
3) That the restrictive compliance measures for transfers and loans of guns will cause law abiding citizens to unintentionally commit crimes and possibly be convicted of gross misdemeanors or felonies.
4) That debate exists whether I-594 would create a registry of guns and that WACOPS holds that if it does not, the background check is useless for enforcement – and that if it does, it is an infringement on the privacy rights of gun owners.
  • The Washington State Law Enforcement Firearms Instructor Association (WSLEFIA) opposes the initiative, stating that I-594 "is a law that will be impossible to police, intended to criminalize only good citizens, a costly misdirection of scarce LE resources and funds, and a statute so broadly written that many of your own activities will become crimes."[5]
  • The National Rifle Association (NRA) has created a separate political committee, called the National Rifle Association of America Washingtonians Opposed to I-594[11]. The NRA opposes this initiative, focusing on the wide reach of the criminalization of firearm transfers without a background check, pointing out that it would undermine gun safety training.[12]

According to analysis by several organizations opposed to I-594, the initiative applies to not just firearms purchases, but also to any transfer, which is defined as "the intended delivery of a firearm to another person without consideration of payment or promise of payment including, but not limited to, gifts and loans." This applies to any change of possession, such as for safekeeping, hunting, loan, recreational sharing, safety training, coaching, transport, etc. If the initiative passes, numerous scenarios will require a background check through a licensed firearms dealer before the temporary transfer can take place:[5][12]

  • Firearms safety training outside the confines of a shooting range.
  • Handling of any firearm on private property by anyone other than the owner, even if under the owner's supervision.
  • Sharing firearms while shooting on private property or public land where shooting is allowed.
  • Loaning a firearm for hunting, if not in the field with the same hunting party.


See also: Polls, 2014 ballot measures
Washington Initiative 594 (2014)
Poll Support OpposeUndecidedMargin of ErrorSample Size
Elway Poll
4/9/2014 - 4/13/2014
Note: The polls above may not reflect all polls that have been conducted in this race. Those displayed are a random sampling chosen by Ballotpedia staff. If you would like to nominate another poll for inclusion in the table, send an email to

Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Washington

In order to qualify for the November 2014 ballot, supporters were required to submit a minimum of 246,372 valid signatures by January 3, 2014. According to Washington law, the number of signatures required to land a measure on the ballot must be equal to or greater than 8 percent of the number of votes cast for the office of governor in the most recent previous election.[1]

According to the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the organization has collected 275,362 as of October 31, 2013.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many

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