A U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel on Thursday rejected a lawsuit challenging Washington State’s Initiative 594 requiring so-called “universal background checks,” but the ruling came only after the State Legislature had amended provisions in the law about when such checks are required.
That fact was specifically noted in the four-page decision, which was unanimous. The three-judge panel consisted of one Barack Obama appointee, one Bill Clinton appointee and one George W. Bush appointee.
Here’s what the court noted:
“While this appeal was pending, the Washington Legislature amended the statutory provisions added by I-594 to clarify that the background check requirement does not apply to ‘circumstances in which the transferee and the firearm remain in the presence of the transferor.’…Northwest School of Safety, Puget Sound Security, Inc., and Pacific Northwest Association of Investigators, Inc. concede that this amendment renders their appeals moot. We therefore dismiss Northwest School of Safety, Puget Sound Security, Inc., and Pacific Northwest Association of Investigators, Inc. from this appeal.”
The remaining plaintiffs in the case, the court said, lacked standing had failed “to demonstrate a genuine threat of imminent prosecution.”
Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, suggested that the court should not require someone to actually be arrested in order to fight a questionable statute.
“Standing to be able to bring a lawsuit to protect a fundamental enumerated constitutional right should not be dependent on an imminent threat of prosecution,” Gottlieb said. “The Courts would never apply that standard to the First Amendment. You should not have to go to jail before challenging a law that is unconstitutional. This was just a way not to hear the merits of the case.”
But considering that the legislature had to fix language adopted when the initiative passed in 2014, can this really be considered a loss? State lawmakers apparently figured out that the initiative needed fixing, but had to wait the mandatory two years to do it. As a result, plaintiffs in the case who are involved in firearms safety instruction were dismissed because their concerns had been addressed, but only by a change in the law.
The court also noted in its dismissal that, “The two known instances where prosecutors have enforced the law involved a firearm transferred without a background check that was later used as a murder weapon and a firearm stolen from a store and exchanged for drugs.”
Contrary to what I-594 backers might think, or want the public to believe, the law did not prevent crimes from occurring, including one homicide. The law has been used only in response to the crimes after they had been committed.
Liberty Park Press earlier noted a report in The Guardian that looked at the effect of so-called “comprehensive background checks” in Washington, Colorado and Delaware, and found that in the two western states, the effects have been negligible.
“In Colorado and Washington state, advocates spent millions of dollars, and two Colorado Democrats lost their seats, in the effort to pass laws requiring criminal background checks on every single gun sale…More than three years later, researchers have concluded that the new laws had little measurable effect, probably because citizens simply decided not to comply and there was a lack of enforcement by authorities.”—The Guardian, Oct. 13
The newspaper was reporting about a study “conducted by some of America’s most well-respected gun violence researchers,” calling it “a setback for a growing gun control movement that has centered its national strategy on precisely the kind of state laws passed in Colorado and Washington.” The study was published in Injury Prevention.