Students voice concerns over state gun law

Concerns of illegal gun storage are legitimate, says WSU assistant police chief



The on-campus gun safe was run by the Washington State Police Department to give students a safe place to store firearms.

JAKOB THORINGTON, Evergreen reporter

When state voters passed Initiative 1639 last November, they did so with the intent to reduce gun violence in the state. The WSU Police Department is concerned the initiative has put students in even greater risk from new effects that took place last July.

“It’d be naive to think students aren’t keeping guns on campus illegally,” said Steve Hansen, WSU assistant chief of police. “We haven’t had any calls yet, but it’s a legitimate concern and an unintended consequence of the statute.”

Gun storage services ended this fall semester. One of the new effects of the initiative includes enhanced background checks for the purchase or transfer of semi-automatic assault rifles. Law enforcement officials must do a criminal history search and gather a mental health check from a state practitioner as part of the background check process.

The background checks made storing guns too cumbersome as the department must run them every time a student checks out their weapon, Hansen said. This decision came from the state attorney general’s interpretation of the law that the service was considered a transfer of possession every time a student checked out a gun.

Hannah Martian, president of WSU’s Young Democrats, said the decision to stop storing guns is a niche and unintended side effect of I-1639 that affects a vocal minority.

“It’s a shame for them [student gun owners],” she said. “Although I don’t know if they need to have them on campus.”

WSU police’s decision to stop holding guns has left students that used the service outraged, said the president of WSU’s gun club Jonah Ryan.

“I was pretty appalled when I heard about it,” Ryan said.

He said some students have nowhere to go to legally store their weapons. He used the service last year when he lived on campus.

“If this would’ve happened last year, I’d be f-cked,” he said. “There are several students I know that are facing that reality and being shut out this year.”

Ryan is from California and said his only option is to store his weapon at his apartment off university property.

State Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said the attorney general’s interpretation of I-1639 that caused WSU police to stop its service is short-sighted.

“This was a very intentional decision from the attorney general,” Schmick said. “We’re turning law-abiding students into potential criminals.”

No state initiative may be amended or repealed for two years without a two-thirds supermajority vote in both the House and Senate, according to the Washington Constitution. I-1639 may be repealed or amended by a majority vote of the legislature in 2020.