Last Updated: May 26, 2018
Disclaimer: While the information provided here is legal in nature, it is not to be construed as legal advice, and is for educational and entertainment purposes only
With the amount of gun laws constantly being proposed and changed at the federal and state levels, it can get confusing trying to keep track of the ones that affect you and your gun rights.
Washington state doesn’t help make things easier with its own gun laws, especially its strict stance when it comes to handguns.
Fortunately, we’ve got everything you need to know to navigate the tortuous gun laws of Washington and have you out protecting your freedoms in no time!
Buying a handgun
The process for buying a handgun in the Evergreen State is relatively involved, so you may want to be sitting down.
To buy a handgun, you must:
- Be 21 or older;
- Provide state ID; and
- Have a background check performed by a licensed firearms dealer.
To start the buying process, you have to fill out an application (in triplicate!) that requires your personal information, as well as a description of the gun, including the make, model, caliber, and serial number. Once you’ve filled that out, you can proceed to the background check portion.
The background check, unlike other states around the country, cannot be avoided, even if the transaction is with a private seller instead of a licensed firearms dealer. Any private transfers of firearms have to be completed through a licensed dealer.
Taking it out for a spin
The state defines “transfers” of firearms as more than just a transaction that changes ownership of the gun. Even loaning your pistol to a friend or other temporary changes in possession of the firearm requires a licensed firearms dealer to perform a background check before you can proceed.
There are exceptions, however, to the “transfer” definition. If any of the exceptions apply, then you do not need to have a background check performed by a licensed firearms dealer before passing off the handgun to another person.
Exceptions to the transfer rule include:
- Transfers and sales of antique firearms;
- Gifts (not sales) between immediate family members;
- Temporary transfers between spouses or domestic partners;
- Transfers to and back from a federally licensed gunsmith for the purposes of service or repair;
- Temporary transfers of firearms at an established shooting range, only if the firearm is kept at the range at all times; and
- Transferring firearms while hunting, if the transfer is made only in locations where hunting is permitted, and the person receiving the firearm is licensed to hunt.
To be considered an antique firearm, and qualify for an the background check exception, the firearm must:
- Not be intended or redesigned for using rimfire or centerfire ignition with fixed ammunition, and be manufactured before 1899; or
- Be manufactured before 1899, and use ammunition that is no longer manufactured in the United States, and is not readily available through ordinary commercial channels (i.e. can’t just buy ammo from your local Walmart).
If the handgun you plan on purchasing meets either of those situations, you can avoid the background check, and make the purchase like any other non-firearms related item.
In the background
Even if you don’t fall into any of the categories to skip the background check, there’s still a couple of other ways you can get around it. If you have a valid concealed pistol license or can get the approval of your local Chief of Police or Sheriff, you can avoid the background check. If not, you’ll have to suffer through it like the rest of us.
The background check itself could take a few days, but you will only have to wait at most 10 days before you can claim your handgun from firearms jail.
The state is pretty strict about who they let purchase handguns, however, so you will need to either make the purchase with a state ID or provide evidence you have been a Washington resident for the past consecutive 90 days before the purchase. Otherwise, you may have to wait up to 60 day before you can pick up your firearm, instead of the standard 10 days.
On top of all that time waiting, if the police have any reasonable grounds to suspect you are ineligible for a handgun, the purchase can be put on a 30-day hold, which can be extended by additional 30-day periods by the court.
Even once you’ve managed to meet all those requirements and go through the background check, there are still situations that would prohibit you from owning a firearm.
You are prohibited from owning (and purchasing) firearms if you:
- Have been convicted of assault, coercion, stalking, reckless endangerment, criminal trespass, or violation of a protection order or restraining order;
- Are free on bond or personal recognizance pending trial, appeal, or sentence for a serious offense;
- Have been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for over a year;
- Are a fugitive from justice;
- Illegally abuse controlled substances;
- Have been adjudicated as mentally defective of incompetent, or have been committed to a mental institution;
- Are an illegal alien;
- Are a former US citizen who has renounced his citizenship;
- Were dishonorably discharged from the US Armed Forces;
- Are subject to a restraining order; or
- Were convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
It’s quite a list, so you’ll want to go through it carefully. As long as none of those situations apply to you, you’re good to go!
A “serious offense” typically involves any crime of violence or sex-related crimes. If you are wondering what specifically qualifies as a serious offense and if your criminal history would prevent you from owning a firearm, the general rule is that if you have to ask, you most likely do not qualify. Of course, you can always check with your local police department just to be sure.
Don’t forget about long guns!
After going through that obstacle course in getting a handgun, the good news is that there is no additional requirements you’ll need to know in order to buy a long gun.
There is no license or permit required to purchase a long gun in Washington. In fact, local governments are actually prohibited by law from requiring purchase permits! That doesn’t mean there are no requirements at all, of course.
To buy a long gun, you must:
- Be 18 or older;
- Provide ID; and
- Have a background check performed by a licensed firearms dealer.
Just like with handguns, unfortunately, background checks are required, even for private sales. The same exceptions also apply in avoiding the background check, as well as the situations that would prohibit you from owning and purchasing firearms.
What about the children???
Our extra observant readers will notice that the age requirement to buy long guns is 18, and to buy handguns is 21. This does not mean you cannot use firearms before you are 18, however.
If you are 18 or younger, you can possess and use firearms if you are:
- On duty as a member of the US Armed Forces, National Guard, or reserves;
- Attending a hunter’s safety course or firearms safety course;
- Practicing at an established shooting range (your backyard does not count);
- Participating in an organized competition or performance that involves firearms use;
- Hunting or trapping (with a valid license);
- In an area where shooting is permitted, and you are:
- At least 14 years old;
- Have been issued a hunter’s safety certificate; and
- Are using a long gun.
- Using firearms while under the supervision of a parent, guardian, or adult who is approved by a parent or guardian;
- Traveling with an unloaded firearm to/from any of the situations above; or
- Are on your own property or property controlled by a parent, relative, or legal guardian, and have the permission of a parent or legal guardian to have and use the gun.
The list should cover most situations where you would want to have a firearm, though you won’t be able to walk around town carrying a gun.
If you are between 18 and 21, you won’t be able to use a handgun, except:
- In your own home;
- At your place of business; or
- On property you control.
This doesn’t change much, except for the fact those of you between 18 and 21 can carry pistols, while everyone else under 18 is limited to long guns. Still, it could be worse, and you could live in California or New York, so look on the bright side! So be nice to your parents and maybe they’ll let you go practicing at the range and carry around the house!
Have gun, will carry
Once you’ve jumped through all the hoops of the gun buying process, you’ll probably want to show off your shiny new toy. This is where things get tricky, though.
Washington state does not officially have any laws prohibiting open carry of firearms. However, there is a law that prohibits carrying, exhibiting, displaying, or drawing firearms in a way that seems like you have an intent to intimidate someone else, or that causes someone to be alarmed for the safety of others.
Depending on where you are and the people around you, the sight of your otherwise legal open carry firearm may cause some people to be alarmed for their safety and the safety of others. In that situation, under Washington law, your open carry would be considered illegal. Unfortunately, it’s up to you to gauge your surroundings and decide how your display of American freedom will be received by others.
In plain sight
Another option to avoid the open carry problem would be to carry concealed. Carrying concealed, however, is much easier said than done. A concealed carry permit is required in order to carry concealed handguns in Washington. There are no permits for carrying concealed long guns, because awkward trench coats are usually dead giveaways for people trying to hide their long guns.
You do not need a concealed carry permit to carry a concealed handgun in your home or in your place of business, however. You’ll just need to remember to open carry when you head out to lunch, or lock it away in your gun safe until you get back to the office (or get back home).
For those of you interested in getting a concealed carry permit in Washington, hop on over to our Washington CCW Laws section to get the lowdown on the application process and the additional laws you’ll need to keep in mind when carrying concealed.
Regardless of whether or not you have a concealed carry permit, there are certain places in the state where firearms are prohibited for everyone.
Firearms are not permitted:
- On elementary or secondary school property;
- On school-provide transportation or areas of facilities being used exclusively by schools
- In restricted-access areas of a jail;
- In courthouses;
- In restricted areas of a mental health facility;
- In areas of restaurants that are off-limits to people under 21 (usually the bar); and
- In restricted areas of commercial airports.
It’s important to keep in mind, too, that while many places in Washington may have signs that say “no firearms allowed” or “firearms prohibited” hanging on the window, these signs have no legal effect. You’ll probably still be hassled by the storeowners if you decide to bring your firearms in any way, which is a different issue you’ll have to deal with. It’s probably a better idea to just support stores that actually welcome you and your freedom pals anyway.
And because it’s Washington, there is a specific law that prohibits carrying of firearms while on the site of an outdoor music festival!
Aside from carrying while on foot, you’ll also be transporting your firearms in vehicles at some point.
Unless you have a concealed carry license, you must transport all handguns unloaded. Even when you leave the vehicle, the pistol has to be unloaded and must be locked in the vehicle and concealed from view. Basically, you can have unloaded handguns in the car, and stowed away in a gun safe while you’re away from the vehicle.
Long guns must also be unloaded when being transported. Because of the way they are loaded, however, long guns specifically cannot contain shells or cartridges in the magazine or chamber, and muzzle-loaded firearms cannot be loaded and capped or primed.
What this essentially means is that any time you take your guns into the car with you, you’ll want to make sure they are unloaded and have no ammo anywhere near the magazines or chamber. You can have ammo close by, but the firearms themselves must remain unloaded.
Stick to your guns
Aside from being fun range toys, firearms are also pretty good at defending your life and liberty. Fortunately, in Washington, there are laws allowing for the use of deadly force in self-defense situations.
Defending the castle
Under what is commonly known as the “Castle Doctrine”, you are permitted to use deadly force, if you reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent a felony or great personal injury to yourself or someone else nearby.
This typically means defending yourself or others when someone breaks into your home or your apartment. Rushing to defend someone who is being attacked in the apartment next door, while admirable, would likely not be considered self-defense. If your neighbor ran into your apartment, however, that would be a different story.
Standing your ground
Aside from defending yourself and others while at home, you are also allowed to defend yourself outside the home. Washington does not have any laws that require you to retreat when faced with a threat of felony or great personal injury when you are not at home. However, it is more difficult to convince a jury that deadly force was necessary in a situation where you could have escaped to safety instead.
Of course, if you cannot retreat without risking harm to yourself and are backed into a corner, then you should use whatever force is necessary to end that threat to yourself and others around you. No matter what situation you ultimately find yourself in, you should always use your best judgment to decide what type of force is appropriate.
That’s all, folks!
With that, you’ve now got all the information you need to be a responsible gun owner in the great state of the great state of Washington!
Don’t forget to check out our CCW section to learn about the process to get a permit and defend your freedom everywhere you go.
If you’re looking to expand your skills before going the CCW route, that’s okay too! But you might want a sturdy safe to keep all your new toys, and keep them away from prying eyes while you’re out of the house.
A basic gun cabinet or handgun safe may be a good starting point for securing your firearms. Once your guns start multiplying, take a look at the bigger safes we recommend to give your guns a nice place to sleep at night.
Now get out there and start your collection! Those guns aren’t going to buy themselves!