Legislators voice concern over State Patrol letter to gun dealers, want answers

Lawmakers in Olympia want to know if the Washington State Patrol (WSP) can explain its reasoning behind a decision to send letters to gun dealers throughout the state which asked for detailed, personal customer information and a list of sales of AR-15 rifles since July of last year.

The State Patrol letter, dated March 9, 2011, indicated the department is investigating a missing or stolen AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. The letter instructed gun dealers to provide the following information:

  • Any and all documents/lists of sales of any AR-15 from July 1, 2010, to present;
  • Any and all documents/lists of sales of any AR-15 lower receiver from July 1, 2010, to present;
  • Any and all documents/lists of sales of any AR-15 gun dealers purchased from a private party; and
  • Any and all names, dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers, dates of transaction and serial number from the purchaser.

Rep. Matt Shea said he began receiving calls from gun dealers who were concerned with the State Patrol attempting to obtain private customer information without a court-ordered warrant.

“When you receive a letter from a law enforcement agency directing you to hand over your files, it can be very intimidating. People may mistakenly feel they are legally obligated to respond, even though this letter was not a court-ordered summons for response,” said Shea, R-Spokane Valley. “While I understand the State Patrol’s concern about one of its rifles missing, I question their method of sending letters to law-abiding gun dealers across the state as if these dealers did something wrong.”

Today, Shea sent a letter to WSP Chief John Batiste, which was signed by 36 representatives and senators, voicing concerns about the March 9 letter.

“This appears to be a massive fishing expedition reminiscent of colonial-era ‘general warrants,’ in disregard of the constraints imposed by the Constitutions of the United States and Washington State,” the lawmakers wrote.

According to information Shea has received from the State Patrol, there is no legal requirement for the dealers to provide such information. He wondered why the State Patrol didn’t issue a serial number of the missing rifle instead of asking gun dealers to list all their records.

“This would take a great amount of time and resources for gun dealers to research and make copies of nine months of files. These small businesses are already struggling and now a state law enforcement agency asks every one of them to do this? We want to know if the chief feels this was the most appropriate way to conduct this investigation and why, or why the State Patrol didn’t handle this differently,” said Shea.

The legislators have asked for a formal response from Batiste by March 30.

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CONTACT: John Sattgast, Senior Information Officer: (360) 786-7257

Click here to download WSP letter and letter to Chief Batiste (PDF file)


Letter to Chief Batiste - Page 1 Letter to Chief Batiste - Page 2 State Patrol letter


Washington State House Republican Communications