Editorial Board

Washington State Cracks Down on Gun Shop Lies

Felons and others are rarely investigated for lying on gun-purchase forms. There should be consequences for breaking the law.

Go ahead and try.

Photographer: Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images

On Sunday, the state of Washington will begin taking the threat of gun violence more seriously. That's when gun dealers in the state will be required to notify law enforcement when someone who is not legally allowed to buy a firearm tries to do so.

There were more than 3,000 such people in Washington in 2015. They went to a licensed gun dealer and filled out a federal form stating that they were legally eligible to purchase a gun. They had to check boxes, for example, stating that they had no convictions for felonies or domestic violence.

Yet a joint investigation by local reporters couldn't find any instances of a prohibited person who attempted to purchase a gun being investigated and prosecuted for falsely filling out the form. That "is a crime punishable as a felony," as the form itself notes. Yet the practice is so common throughout the U.S. that it has its own moniker: "lie and try."

The new Washington law will help local law enforcement agencies pay for investigations into those who "lie and try," a population that has typically been a low priority for police departments. Only six other states have "lie and try" notification laws similar to Washington's, while three other states notify law enforcement authorities as a matter of policy, not statute.

Washington's law also creates a system to notify victims of stalking, sexual assault or domestic violence if an abuser has tried and failed to purchase a gun. Links between domestic and gun violence are well-established. Between 2003 and 2012, according to one report, two-thirds of female violent crime victims were targeted by someone they knew, and guns were the most frequently used weapon. U.S. women are 16 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than are women in other affluent countries.

Given these stakes, victims have a right to know when an abuser is seeking to buy a gun illegally. And law enforcement should be alerted and investigate -- before a prohibited person seeks a gun from an unregulated source.

    --Editors: Francis Wilkinson, Michael Newman

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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