The Island County, Washington prosecutor has filed what may be the first-ever criminal charge for violation of a controversial “universal background check” law approved by voters in 2014, almost one year after an Oak Harbor man was murdered with an allegedly illegally-transferred pistol, according to KING5 News and the Northwest News Network.
According to published reports, Mark Mercado, 25, has been charged with unlawful transfer of a firearm, a gross misdemeanor. His whereabouts are reportedly unknown.
But in November 2015, Mercado allegedly sold a .22-caliber Phoenix Arms pistol to then-19-year-old David Nunez without going through a federally licensed firearms dealer to conduct a background check required under Initiative 594, which had been pushed by a Seattle-based gun control group. However, commercial retail pistol transfers cannot be conducted for anyone under age 21 under federal law.
A day later, the pistol allegedly was used in the murder of 17-year-old John Skyler Johnson at his Oak Harbor residence. Nunez was not the shooter in that case, but he and three co-defendants pleaded guilty in connection with the slaying, according to Northwest News Network’s story.
The pistol has never been recovered, according to published reports. It may have been thrown into the ocean.
Mercado reportedly left his Oak Harbor job. An arrest warrant has been issued.
Northwest News Network noted that, as of March 2016, a total of 50 private gun sales had been stopped by I-594, based on available FBI data at that time. While that may seem like a victory for the initiative, which was approved by about 60 percent of the voters who returned ballots in 2014, critics argue that there were no reported arrests or charges in connection with those cases and there is no way of knowing whether the people who were initially stopped didn’t obtain firearms some other way.
Some of those critics, discussing the case at the Gun Rights Coalition Facebook page, also contend that the initiative didn’t prevent the crime. It is now only being used as a mechanism to prosecute someone.
Johnson was killed apparently in a dispute over an impound fee, according to the Whidbey Daily News at the time.
The charge against Mercado was filed Friday in Island County Superior Court.
I-594 was passed after an expensive campaign that raised and spent more than $10 million. It has spawned at least two clones that are on the ballot next month, one in Maine and the other in Nevada. Last year, the Oregon Legislature passed legislation similar to that required by the Washington initiative.
The Second Amendment Foundation and others have challenged the initiative in federal court. The case was initially dismissed by a federal judge in Tacoma on the grounds that plaintiffs lacked standing, but that decision is now under appeal with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.