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FAQ: Washington Firearms Laws

Here are the most frequently asked questions about buying, selling, and owning a gun in Washington. 

What is the background check procedure in Washington for purchasing a firearm?

Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (FFL) to run background checks on anyone who wants to purchase a gun. 

In 2014, Washington became the first state in the nation to pass a universal background checks law.  This law requires all Washington firearms sellers to conduct a firearms sale through an FFL. 

This means that an FFL will be running a background check on a private Washington buyer as if the FFL were directly selling firearm to the Washington resident.

Federal law requires an FFL to use the FBI / National Instant Criminal Background Check System (FBI / NICS), which is a nationwide database of criminal history, protection orders, and warrant.  NCIS checks can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. 

You must pass a background check to purchase a handgun and a semiautomatic rifle. 

Washington law also requires firearms sellers to use the Washington State Patrol (WSP) electronic database and the Department of Social and Health Services electronic database when performing background checks. 

How long does a background check take in Washington?

 The state allows for 10 days to complete a background check on a prospective handgun buyer, unless the person clears the background check sooner. 

 However, Washington state allows for up to 60 days in the following cases:

  • You do not have a valid Washington driver's license or State ID card
  • You have not been a Washington resident for the previous consecutive 90 days

Is there a mandatory waiting period after purchasing a handgun?


What is the minimum age to buy and possess a handgun?

You must be at least 18 years old to possess a firearm, unless a specific exception applies.

You must be 21 years old to purchase a semi-automatic rifle.  You must also be at least 21 years old to carry a concealed pistol.

Do I have to register a handgun in Washington state?


Do I need a permit to purchase a handgun?


What firearms can I possess in Washington without a license?

Pistols (revolver and semi-automatic)


Assault rifles (semi-automatic or automatic)


You only need a license to carry a concealed firearm.  

Can I purchase a semiautomatic assault rifle in Washington?

Yes, but the following conditions apply:

  • You must have successfully completed an approved firearms safety course within the past five (5) years before making your purchase
  • Law enforcement must notify the seller in writing that you are eligible to own a firearm and that your application to purchase the semi-automatic rifle has been approved.  
  • As of July 1, 2019, there is a mandatory 10-day waiting period 

Can I carry a loaded weapon in public?

Washington is an “open carry” state.

That is, you can legally carry a loaded handgun in public without a permit if you are at least 21 years old.

Certain areas are off-limits, including public schools, state courthouses, and law enforcement facilities.

You cannot carry a loaded handgun in a vehicle, however, without a valid concealed pistol license (CPL)

Can I carry a concealed handgun in public?

Yes, but only if you have a valid CPL.  

Otherwise, you can only carry a concealed handgun at home or at work. 

Where can you not possess firearms

  • Airports. Under federal law, you cannot possess a firearm once you pass TSA checkpoints, but many airports prohibit you from possessing a firearm anywhere in the airport.   
  • Correctional facilities: jails, prisons, detention and juvenile facilities
  • Office of Administrative Hearings: Buildings in which the State is conducting administrative hearings
  • Elementary and secondary schools (public and private) 

What are the penalties for unlawful possession of a firearm?

Unlawful possession of a firearm is a Class C felony, punishable up to 5 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine, but you face a maximum of 10 years in prison if certain aggravating factors are present.    

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