See our Background Checks policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not private sellers) to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm. Federal law provides states with the option of serving as a state “point of contact” and conducting their own background checks using state, as well as federal, records and databases, or having the checks performed by the FBI using only the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. (Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.)

Washington is a partial point of contact state for the NICS.1 In Washington, local law enforcement departments serve as state points of contact for implementation of the Brady Act for all dealer deliveries of handguns. Transfers of rifles and shotguns by licensed dealers are processed through the FBI.2

Licensed dealers must conduct background checks on prospective purchasers each time a dealer transfers a firearm.3 Washington requires firearms dealers to use NICS, the Washington State Patrol electronic database, the Department of Social and Health Services’ electronic database, and other agencies or resources as appropriate when processing firearm transactions.4

In 2014, Washington became the first state in the nation to pass a universal background checks law by voter initiative.5 The law requires all private sales of firearms to be conducted through a federally licensed firearms dealer who will conduct a background check on the private buyer. Washington also requires law enforcement to run a background check before returning a confiscated firearm.6

In 2017, Washington enacted a law requiring dealers to report individuals who fail a background check while attempting to purchase a firearm to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. The dealer must report the denial within 5 days. The Association must also establish a grant program for local law enforcement agencies to conduct criminal investigations regarding persons who illegally attempted to purchase or transfer a firearm within their jurisdiction.7

The law enacted in 2017 also requires the Association to create an automated protected person notification system allowing a person to register to receive notification if an individual subject to a domestic violence order attempts to purchase a firearm.8

See the Washington Private Sales section and our Private Sales policy summary. See also the Retention of Sales / Background Check Records in Washington section.

Brady Exemption

Concealed pistol license holders whose licenses were issued on or after July 22, 2011, qualify as exempt from future background checks when purchasing a firearm, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) chart that outlines those permits that qualify as alternatives to the federal Brady Act. Please note that ATF’s exempt status determination for a given state is subject to change without notice.

Under federal law, persons who have been issued state permits to purchase or possess firearms are exempt from background checks if those permits were issued: 1) within the previous five years in the state in which the transfer is to take place; and 2) after an authorized government official has conducted a background investigation, including a search of the NICS database, to verify that possession of a firearm would not be unlawful.9


  1. Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Instant Criminal Background Check System Participation Map, at (last visited Aug. 31, 2015). ⤴︎
  2. Id. ⤴︎
  3. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.090(2)(b). ⤴︎
  4. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.090(2)(b). ⤴︎
  5. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.010 ⤴︎
  6. 2015 WA S.B. 5381, Sect. 2(1). ⤴︎
  7. Rev. Code Wash. (ARCW) § 9.41.___ (added by 2017 c 261 § 1). ⤴︎
  8. Rev. Code Wash. (ARCW) § 36.28A.___ (added by 2017 c 261 § 5). ⤴︎
  9. 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(3), 27 C.F.R. § 478.102(d). ⤴︎