UPDATED, 3/18 @ 10:55 A.M. — While several law enforcement agencies around Washington State have temporarily suspended fingerprinting services, which are required for submitting applications for concealed pistol licenses, there might be a solution buried in the state statute covering licensing.
It’s Paragraph 10 of the law covering application for and renewal of CPLs. It’s designed primarily for people under immediate threat, but it could be interpreted to apply to anyone in an emergency. According to every news agency on the map, and most government officials trying to display leadership, the coronavirus pandemic is an emergency.
“(10) Notwithstanding the requirements of subsections (1) through (9) of this section, the chief of police of the municipality or the sheriff of the county of the applicant’s residence may issue a temporary emergency license for good cause pending review under subsection (1) of this section. However, a temporary emergency license issued under this subsection shall not exempt the holder of the license from any records check requirement. Temporary emergency licenses shall be easily distinguishable from regular licenses.”
UPDATE: The bugaboo could be in these words: “shall not exempt the holder of the license from any records check requirement.” Under a full records check, fingerprints would be required. Liberty Park Press has been advised.
Is there a better “good cause” than protecting one’s self, family and home during an emergency? Washington’s state constitutional right-to-bear-arms provision is specific: “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 is Article I, Section 24.
A suspension, however “temporary,” of accepting CPL applications could be an impairment. That would be up to a court to decide. In the meantime, with some people advocating for the release of convicted felons from prison to protect them from COVID-19 infection, as the group Seattle Indivisible just did, there is even a greater sense of urgency among many law-abiding citizens to be armed.
According to the state Department of Licensing, at the beginning of this month there were more than 650,800 active CPLs. That number has been steadily climbing each month for the past several years. Attempts by anti-gun lawmakers to add a training requirement this year failed.
Liberty Park Press chatted Tuesday with Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC).
Under the statute, “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.)
The problem for law enforcement agencies faced with the COVID-19 scare is with the language is in the last sentence. A “completed application” includes fingerprints and the statue says “shall” not “may.” That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room, but Paragraph (10) above just might, but it also might not, because of the fingerprint question noted above in the update.
Strachan made an important point that law enforcement agencies are trying balance their responsibilities to serve the public while taking precautions to limit the possible exposure of their employees to a highly communicable virus.
There are some measures that can be taken to reduce the risks. Employees can wear latex gloves during the fingerprinting process, if they’re not already doing it.
Concealed pistol license applications can be lightly sprayed with a disinfectant, and public areas of police or sheriff’s offices can also be sprayed with disinfectant.
Applicants can be required to wash their hands, and use hand sanitizer prior to the fingerprinting process.
The gun prohibition lobby constantly talks about “common sense.” While the emergency continues, common sense should prevail, especially when there is a potential for impairing the exercise of a fundamental individual right that is enumerated in the constitution.