Writing this week at Ammoland News, Lawrence Keane—senior vice president and general counsel at the National Shooting Sports Foundation—reported that Nebraska, Mississippi, Texas, New Hampshire, Utah and other state legislatures “are working to strengthen their state’s preemption laws.
But what about Washington, the Evergreen State, with a rich history of gun ownership and one of the strongest right-to-bear-arms provisions found in any state constitution? The Democrat-controlled Legislature seems more interested in gun control than gun rights this year, with a number of bills having been introduced, and at least one moving along to prohibit open carry at permitted demonstrations, including gun rights rallies. Apparently, people who don’t attend gun rights rallies are “intimidated” by the people who do attend, while openly carrying sidearms or long guns. It raises a question about how someone might be intimidated when he/she isn’t anywhere in the vicinity.
Adopted Nov. 11, 1889 when Washington became a state, Article 1, Section 24 of Washington’s constitution is unmistakably clear:
“The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.”
It was so good that when Arizona achieved statehood on Feb. 14, 1912, the authors of its state constitution copied Washington’s provision word-for-word, but removed a couple of commas and capitalized the “S” in State.
So, how is it that over the last 11 months, Arizona’s number of active concealed carry licenses has increased from 355,963 posted April 12 of last year, while in Washington state, the number of active concealed pistol licenses has plummeted from 650,825 posted March 6, 2020 to 624,275, posted March 1—this past Monday—by the state Department of Licensing? In Arizona, armed citizens don’t even need a permit to carry, as the state has adopted permitless “constitutional carry.”
That’s a loss of 26,550 CPLs in Washington, and the decline may be found primarily in a handful counties, mostly in Western Washington with a few east of the mountains. Many, if not most law enforcement agencies, which are responsible for processing CPLs, “suspended” the acceptance of new license applications in mid-March when Democrat Gov. Jay Inslee announced the state would be essentially shutting down for a period of 14 days to “flatten the curve.” But the 14 days became a month and then another month and so on, stretching into 2021.
There is nothing in the state statute that allows such a suspension of what is a protected right, especially for several months, pandemics notwithstanding. Here’s what the law says in the very first paragraph:
“The chief of police of a municipality or the sheriff of a county shall within thirty days after the filing of an application of any person, issue a license to such person to carry a pistol concealed on his or her person within this state for five years from date of issue, for the purposes of protection or while engaged in business, sport, or while traveling. However, if the applicant does not have a valid permanent Washington driver’s license or Washington state identification card or has not been a resident of the state for the previous consecutive ninety days, the issuing authority shall have up to sixty days after the filing of the application to issue a license. The issuing authority shall not refuse to accept completed applications for concealed pistol licenses during regular business hours.” (Emphasis added.)
But in King, Mason, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston and Whatcom counties—where more than 25,000 of those active CPL numbers have disappeared—did somebody apparently lose their reading glasses? Franklin and Walla Walla Counties in Eastern Washington also lost numbers while both have strong gun ownership traditions. But neighboring Benton County west of the Columbia River, with the same gun owning tradition, gained slightly.
Some of the decline might be attributed to people not renewing their CPLs, moving out of state or dying. Another factor might be the loss of “same day delivery” for handgun buyers with active CPLs that—because of a change in the way background checks are now conducted so even CPL holders have to wait to take possession of a new handgun—some people possibly didn’t renew or apply.
Some local police agencies within these counties were reportedly accepting new applications, but overall, possibly thousands of citizens simply could not apply. While open carry is legal in Washington, and arguably protected by the constitution since one needs a license to carry concealed, you are not likely to see hundreds of people openly carrying firearms in downtown Seattle, Tacoma or Spokane. Ergo, the only way they would carry is concealed, and for that, one needs a CPL.
Here’s another interesting thing. While the number of active CPLs declined in the state, the number of homicides went up last year, especially in Seattle.
While it is understandable that government agencies would take precautions to protect the health of their employees, other counties somehow managed to maintain and actually increase the number of active CPLs and that requires processing of applications as well as renewing licenses set to expire sometime during the past year.
Counties reporting more active CPLs today than April 1, 2020 include Clallam, Chelan, Douglas, Jefferson, Garfield, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lewis and Whitman, according to DOL data.
As reported earlier, the Seattle Police Department began accepting applications in January, according to an exchange of email with SPD public affairs. But that was more than nine months after the shutdown began. They are allowing applicants to get fingerprinted by private fingerprinting services in the area—there are actually several places offering such services—since the original application must be accompanied by fingerprints for the criminal background check.
The irony here is that smaller agencies, with fewer personnel, were evidently able to continue processing new applications while agencies in the larger, more populous counties, evidently haven’t.
Over the course of last summer and stretching into autumn and winter, Washingtonians purchased a lot of firearms, including hundreds, if not thousands of people making their first-ever gun purchase. Concerned about possible social disorder due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and alarmed by urban protests that frequently became riots, demands that police budgets be slashed with accompanying stories about police officers retiring or leaving for jobs elsewhere—leaving citizens convinced they would have to take personal responsibility for their safety and that of their loved ones—many of those new gun owners wanted to be armed outside of their homes but they couldn’t apply for CPLs with their local agency or county sheriff’s office.
Prior to the shutdown, Washington had been averaging roughly 2,000-2,500 new CPLs every month over the past several years, and in some months, the number jumped more than 4,000 to 5,000, a strong indication of public demand.
With the state apparently now “opening back up” albeit gradually, those counties where CPL numbers have declined have some catching-up to do. How swiftly that will happen may require some scrambling by issuing agencies.