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Legal challenges likely await gun retailer oversight bill if its signed into law

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(The Center Square) – Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign a bill that passed the state Legislature this session to tighten regulations on gun retailers.

Per Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2118, gun dealers would be required to undergo annual employee background checks, maintain security systems and have minimum mandated insurance coverage. In addition, dealers would be legally required to notify law enforcement of losses of firearms within 24 hours and respond to gun tracing requests during that same time period.

Supporters of the legislation say it’s about keeping inventory safe and facilitating law enforcement’s tracking of straw purchases.

Opponents contend ESHB 2118 is meant to shut down gun dealers with burdensome regulations, especially the more stringent security requirements.

“That’s 100% the motivation, they’ve made no secret about that,” Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, told The Center Square on Monday afternoon of Democrats’ pushing of the bill.

The good news, according to the Republican Senate leader, is changes were made to the bill before it passed the Legislature.

“We were able to make the requirements on the surveillance down to 90 days, where I think they started at six years,” Braun said.

An earlier version of the bill mandated that video and audio surveillance must clearly record every business transaction and almost every part of the business, 24 hours a day, and that the recordings must be stored for a minimum of six years.

“That would have been ridiculously expensive, to have high quality audio and video recordings for six years,” Braun noted. “It’s several hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and nobody can afford to do that.”

Should the bill become law, legal challenges are expected from organizations such as National Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Rife Association.

Jane Milhans is a Tacoma-area firearms instructor who teaches gun safety and shooting skills to other women.

More than 15 years ago, she was confronted by two men inside her home.

“That is why I became so involved in defending a woman’s rights to defend herself,” Milhans explained.

After that incident, Milan said women kept coming to her “asking me to teach them how to shoot, and so I took classes and became an NRA-certified firearms instructor.”

Milhans volunteers her time and expertise to women so they have the ability to protect themselves.

“My clientele is primarily widows from the age of 60-up to 90 years old, as well as single mothers who want the ability to protect themselves and their families,” she said. “I heard one small business say it [ESHB 2118] will cost them $1 million to do everything.”

The cost of maintaining multiple real-time cameras and 24-hour surveillance for months at a time would be cost-prohibitive according to gun rights advocates who spoke during public testimony on the legislation.

“If you’re in a small town somewhere and your local gun shop had to close down because they can’t afford the recording and the storage capacity of recording and extra things above and beyond what the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] demands, they are not going to stay open,” Milhans said. “That’s going to very much restrict a woman’s ability to purchase a firearm when she needs one, so this bill is just another notch in the agenda of the Democrat Party to totally disarm the citizens of the state of Washington.”

She went on to say, “So, a lot of them won’t be able to stay around, they’ll have to close.”

Rep. Amy Wallen, D-Kirkland, sponsored the bill and defended it during public testimony.

“I’m an auto dealer, and I know it’s not the same, but there are a lot of rules and regulations on our businesses in Washington state and passing this bill will clearly enumerate the responsibilities of our gun stores in Washington state,” she said.

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, asked Wallen if there is any similar regulatory “scheme” on auto dealers in the state.

“We have a lot of specific regulatory framework that applies to auto dealers, because not only are we dealing with dangerous objects, but also perhaps entrust folks with consumer data and so we’re regulated by the feds, and county, Department of Licensing, and Department of Revenue,” she replied.

Wallen said that’s why she felt comfortable sponsoring the bill.

“We are extremely regulated, and so I know what it takes to be a licensed business owner in the state of Washington,” she added.