State visitors can hide their guns
They may be packing a gun. And it will be legal.
For the first time, Washington is recognizing other states' concealed weapon licenses, if those licenses are issued under the same guidelines as here.
"The right of self-defense does not and should not stop at the state border," said Joe Waldron, executive director of the Citizen's Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, a Bellevue-based gun-rights group with 650,000 members, including 18,000 in this state.
North Carolina and Washington signed an agreement for reciprocal recognition last week. Similar arrangements with other states will be completed this week, and a list will be posted by Thursday on the Web site of the state attorney general, www.atg.wa.gov.
"The announcement of this new law is spreading across the United States," said state Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, who authored the law establishing reciprocity. It won support from 147 of 150 lawmakers before Gov. Gary Locke signed it.
It took effect June 10, but only in the last few days has anyone been able to take advantage of it.
Part of the reason is that staff at the Attorney General's Office have been surveying states to see which of them comply with Washington's requirements.
Delay also stemmed from concerns about wording in the law that seemed to infer that other states must check the mental history of a license applicant through a fingerprint-based database.
While states do cull through agency records for evidence of a mental health history that might preclude issuing someone a license, no state, including Washington, uses fingerprints in that manner.
Stevens said the intent was clear that fingerprints are required only for checking criminal records. Assistant Attorney General Susan DanPullo, after poring over the legislative debate, agreed.
"We have always been looking for ways to interpret the law to carry out the legislative intent," DanPullo said.
That satisfied Stevens, who days earlier had criticized the department for what she considered foot-dragging and interpreting the law in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner. "We are pleased with this long overdue decision to move forward with this law," said.
Waldron said 46 states allow citizens to carry concealed weapons. Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas and Nebraska do not.
Application requirements differ. Alaska and Alabama have none; in Kentucky you must be at least 18 to obtain a license; in California, county sheriffs issue them at their discretion, and that discretion varies widely around the state.
Washington has issued concealed weapon licenses for more than 40 years. Applicants must be at least 21, pass a criminal background check, have a clean criminal history and pay a fee. Today, according to Waldron, about 240,000 people - about 5 percent of the state's adult population - are licensed to carry concealed weapons.
This law specifies that other states must have the same guidelines as Washington in order for their residents to carry guns when visiting. And for those that don't - Kentucky will not because of the age issue - their residents must leave their firearms at home. The other states must also honor Washington's concealed weapon licenses.
Waldron lobbied for reciprocity for several years without success. But since Sept. 11, 2001, gun sales and license requests have spiked nationally, and there's been an "attitudinal change" among lawmakers "who this fall can show voters they voted for a gun bill."
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