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police confiscate gunWoe betide the law-abiding firearms owner unlucky enough to have his firearms seized by a law-enforcement agency in Washington.  Time and again, law-enforcement agencies delay or refuse the return of such property, even when there is no good reason for the agencies to hold it.

How, you may wonder, does a “law-abiding firearms owner” lose his lawfully owned property to the police?  Consider these true-life examples:

*A person lawfully transporting his firearm in his vehicle is involved in a collision which leaves him seriously injured.  While the injured person travels in an aid car to the hospital, police at the accident scene decide to have the damaged vehicle towed or impounded.  As part of that process, an officer lawfully searches the vehicle, finds the firearm, and takes the firearm  into safekeeping.

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I often receive calls from people who are surprised to learn that their Washington juvenile criminal records have not been automatically sealed or wiped out.   This unwelcome news usually pops up when a person is trying to buy a gun and receives a negative response on the mandatory criminal-history  check  by NICS, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System operated by the FBI.   Fortunately, most people in this position will qualify to have the record sealed by the juvenile court.

There is a persistent myth that once you become an adult,  your juvenile criminal history somehow dissolves  or evaporates, and ceases to have any consequence.  In Washington, at least, it just isn’t so.  Juvenile-court records are public records, accessible to anyone who asks, just like any other court record.  But for those who qualify, a Washington juvenile record may be sealed by presenting a motion to the court.

A court order to seal a juvenile offender record yields tremendous benefits. Continue reading

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527555_newspapers__2You might have expected bigger play for a news story reporting that gun homicides in the United States fell a whopping 39 percent between 1993 and 2011.  That is one of the findings from a study released this month by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.  You can find the government study online here.

Seattle-area newspaper readers interested in gun rights could easily have overlooked the  Seattle Times news story, which appeared low on an inside page.  The Washington Post gave the story  more prominent play, along with another story about a private study which showed an even bigger drop – 49 percent – in gun homicides.

Why didn’t we hear more about this report from news organizations?

Many in the pro-gun community would almost reflexively say that news reporters, editors, and broadcasters are consciously and deliberately engaged in suppressing news that might show guns in a favorable light.  That’s not it, and I speak from my perspective as a former reporter and editor for a major Pacific Northwest daily newspaper.  There is no conspiracy in the newsroom. Continue reading

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Raise your hand if this sounds like someone you know:  As a not-yet-fully-baked adult, he made what today’s parents refer to as “bad choices.”  A few too many traffic tickets.  A bit of theft.  An unsuccessful attempt to outrun the cops.  A bar brawl.  A burglary.  Some or all of the above . . . and then some.

Fast forward to today.  It’s been 10 . . . 15 . . . maybe 20 years since any trouble with the law.  He has a career, or maybe his own business, and a family.  But here’s what he doesn’t have: the right under Washington law and federal law to own or possess firearms.   He has one or two, or even more, felony convictions on his record, and every felony conviction disqualifies him.

It does not even take a felony case to lose firearm rights.  Conviction for a misdemeanor offense with a “domestic violence” tag also terminates gun rights.

And in nearly every case, it does not matter whether the conviction has been expunged, or whether the charge was dismissed under some deferral program offered as a plea deal by the prosecuting attorney.  As far as the authorities are concerned, the conviction still prohibits firearm possession.

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If you have a conviction in Washington for a domestic-violence misdemeanor, you may be able to have a court restore your rights under Washington law to possess firearms.  But federal authorities may not recognize the Washington court order, so you could be in a position where your possession of firearms does not violate Washington state law, but does violate federal law.

Before giving up hope of ever owning a gun again, take a close look at whether your conviction truly fits the federal definition of “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”  The federal definition is much narrower than the definition appearing in Washington law.   To put things a little differently, an offense classified as a DV offense under Washington law may not be classified as a DV offense under federal law.  In that situation, if your Washington gun rights are restored there is no prohibition on your right to possess firearms.

For example, in order to qualify under federal law as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” an element of the crime must be the use of force or the threat to use force (such as an assault).  Thus, if your conviction is for violating a protection order, it does not prohibit your possession of firearms under federal law, because one can commit the offense without using force (by telephoning the protected person, for example).

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