Losing firearm rights in Washington state

Both state and federal laws independently regulate firearm possession. Each regulatory scheme has similarities and significant differences. It is possible to be in conformity with federal law while violating state law, and vice versa. It is also possible to be separately prosecuted by both state and federal authorities for the same instance of unlawful possession of a firearm.

Losing firearm rights due to felony or domestic violence misdemeanor conviction

Under Washington state law, it is unlawful for a person to possess a firearm after having been convicted of any felony or certain domestic violence misdemeanors. RCW 9.41.040(1), (2)(a)(i). Those certain misdemeanors are assault in the fourth degree, coercion, stalking, reckless endangerment, criminal trespass in the first degree, or violation of a no contact order. RCW 9.41.040(2)(a)(i). A misdemeanor is labeled with the “domestic violence” monicker if the victim of the crime falls within the definition of “family or household member.” The definition of “family or household member” under state law is very broad and includes spouses, former spouses, persons who have children in common, adults related by blood or marriage, adults who are currently residing together or have resided together in the past, biological or legal parents or children, and essentially anyone who is in or had been in a dating relationship. RCW 10.99.020(3). If you have a conviction for any felony or one of these domestic violence misdemeanors, your firearm rights in Washington state will remain suspended until you restore them. The prohibition applies even if your conviction is from another state.

Federal law is similar to Washington state law and also prohibits a convicted felon from possessing a firearm. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). However, concerning domestic violence misdemeanors, federal law is substantially different. First, only misdemeanors that include the use or attempted use of force or threatened use of a deadly weapon are disqualifying for firearm possession purposes. 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(33). Second, the class of victims that will trigger the firearms prohibition is much narrower than under state law. The crime must have been committed “by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.” 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(33). Because of how much broader the Washington state definition of domestic violence is than the federal definition, a domestic violence misdemeanor committed against some of the victims defined in RCW 10.99.020(3) would suspend your Washington state firearm rights but not your federal firearm rights. For example, a misdemeanor assault against a sibling, parent, or casual dating partner would count as domestic violence for Washington state law purposes, but not for federal law purposes. Thus, it is possible to lose your firearm rights under Washington state law, but not federal law.

Losing firearm rights due to involuntary commitment for mental health treatment

Under Washington state law, an involuntary commitment for mental health treatment suspends firearms rights until restored. RCW 9.41.040(2)(a)(iii). Likewise, anyone adjudicated as a “mental defective” or committed to a mental institution loses the right to possess firearms under federal law. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4).

Losing firearm rights due to protection order

Certain types of protection orders will suspend your firearm rights under Washington state and federal law if you are the restrained party. The order must issue after a hearing of which the restrained party received actual notice and had an opportunity to participate, and must include a finding that the restrained party represents a credible threat to the physical safety of an intimate partner or child. RCW 9.41.040(2)(a)(ii); 18 U.S.C. § 922(8).

Other reasons for losing firearm rights

There is a litany of other, much less common, reasons for losing your firearm rights. Take a look at RCW 9.41.040(2)(a)(iv), (v); 18 U.S.C. § 921(g).


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