Firearms laws in Washington are undergoing big changes in 2023 and even bigger changes in 2024.
The public will most likely be focused on three (3) historic gun safety measures that Governor Jay Inslee signed into law in April 2023.
HB 1240, which takes effect immediately, prohibits the sale, manufacture, importation, and distribution of any assault weapon. Second, House Bill 1143 requires a mandatory 10-day waiting period for all firearm purchases, any requires gun safety training for any prospective buyer.
House Bill 1143 doesn't take effect until January 1, 2024.
Finally, Senate Bill 5078 requires manufacturers and gun retailers to take reasonable steps to enforce existing firearm laws and prevent selling weapons to individuals who pose a danger to themselves and the public. This law takes effect later this year.
In short, the Big Three measures are focused on making sure less people have less guns. But what about people with criminal records who want to purchase firearms? They'll likely be more focused on the following changes to RCW 9.41.040(4), the statute dealing with firearms restoration in Washington.
House Bill 1562
In May 2023, Governor Inslee signed House Bill 1562 into law. HB 1562 overhauls the process for restoring your gun rights under Washington law. Although HB 1562 doesn't take effect until July 23, 2023, you can't wait until then to figure out what this law means.
Why? The process for restoring your gun rights in Washington takes at least 3 months or longer, so even if you start the process now, you won't get a hearing or a decision until August 2023, at which point the current law that matters will be the old law that's irrelevant.
There's a lot to cover in HB 1562, and fortunately you don't need to know everything, or even most of it. But you do need to some of it, and the “some of it” is really important.
In short, the process becomes simpler and more complicated. Sound confusing? Yes it is. Let's dive in.
Let's start with the Big Three.
1. What court do I file my motion? - You have less choice than before
Current Law: Two possible courts. You may file your petition to restore firearms in one of the following courts:
- The superior court that took away your gun rights
- The superior court in the county in which you reside.
Example (current law): You were convicted of a felony in Clark County but now you live in Wenatchee. You could file your motion in either Clark County Superior Court (the court that took away your rights) or Chelan County Superior Court (in the county where you live).
New Law: Starting July 23, 2023, you must file a firearms restoration petition “in a superior court in a county” that entered the prohibition taking away your gun rights.
If the new law seems more restrictive to you, you're absolutely right. No longer can you file in the county just because you live there.
Example (new law): You were convicted of a felony in King County but now you live in Spokane. You must file your motion in King County Superior Court because King County terminated your firearm rights. You don't have the option of filing in Spokane County Superior Court.
If you live in Washington State and all your criminal history is in Washington, this change will hardly affect you. Whether you have to file in King County or Asotin County doesn't matter - a gun restoration order is valid statewide regardless of what court issues it.
But what if you live in Washington but you have criminal convictions outside Washington? Now it matters.
Example (current law): You were convicted of a felony in Texas when you were in college, but now you live in Everett. You do do not have any criminal record in Washington. You can file a restoration motion in Snohomish County Superior Court, because you live in Snohomish County. The fact that you do not have convictions in Snohomish County doesn't matter.
Example (new law): Same facts. You cannot restore your gun rights in Washington.
Why not? You cannot restore your state rights in Washington through the state courts in Texas. And, under the new law, you cannot file a restoration petition in the county in which you reside.
Does this make sense? No.
Did the legislature mean for this to happen? Maybe not.
Will the legislature change its mind? Let's hope so.
Is there a legal loophole around this restrictive new provision? Let's wait and see.
2. How long do I have to wait before I am eligible to restore my firearm rights?
Under RCW 9.41.040(4), you cannot petition to restore your gun rights until you have spent at least five (5) consecutive years in the community without having been convicted of any crime, whether it's a felony, gross misdemeanor, or simple misdemeanor.
Under the current law, you don't necessarily need to have been crime free in the 5 years immediately before you file your petition. You just need to be able to point to some 5-year crime-free period in your background.
Example (current law): You were convicted of domestic violence assault in 2007 and misdemeanor theft in 2019. You file your petition in July 2023. You are eligible because you spent at least 5 crime-free years between 2007 and 2019. (This assumes, of course, that you meet all other requirements).
Current Law: You are eligible for restoration if you have any five-year crime-free period in your criminal history, even if it isn't the most recent 5 years.
New Law: Effective July 23, 2023, your crime-free period must be the most recent years before you file the petition. But here's where it gets tricky – the number of required crime-free years depends on the crime.
Five Year Period: Before you can file your restoration petition, you cannot have been convicted of one of the following crimes in the past five (5) years:
- Any felony
- Any crime of domestic violence
- Violating a domestic violence protection order (DVPO)
- Violating an extreme risk protection order (ERPO)
- Violating an weapons surrender order
- Cyber harassment
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI)
- Negligent driving in the first degree
- Physical control of a motor vehicle
- Operation of a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Aiming or discharging a firearm
- Unlawful carrying or handling of a firearm
- Animal cruelty in the second degree
Three-Year Period: Before you can file your restoration petition, you cannot have been convicted of any non-felony crime not previously covered in the “Five-Year Period” crimes.
Sound confusing? Unfortunately, it is, as the examples make clear:
Why: Your domestic violence crime was over 5 years ago and your non-domestic violence misdemeanor crime was over 3 years ago.
Example #2: You were convicted of a felony in 2017 and a non-domestic violence misdemeanor in 2021. You file your petition in July 2023. You are not eligible.
Why: Your misdemeanor crime was less than 3 years ago, even though your felony was over 5 years ago.
3. Do I have to pay off my fines before I'm eligible? Thankfully, NO
Current law: Whether you have to pay off your fines before you're eligible to restore your gun rights depends on whether you have prior felony or domestic violence misdemeanor convictions.
If you have felony convictions, you are eligible even if you still owe money on your case.
If you have a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction, you are only eligible if you have paid off all your fines.
New Law: You are eligible to restore your firearm rights if you still owe money on your court cases, regardless of whether you have domestic violence misdemeanors or felonies on your record.
About Us: Zuanich Law focuses on expunging criminal records and firearms restoration law in Washington and Oregon. We also handle family law, criminal and civil appeals, civil litigation, military law, landlord-tenant law, and personal injury law.