Tacoma gun show requires no background checks through private sellers

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

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TACOMA, Wash. - At the first gun show at the Tacoma Dome in more than 20 years, people will be able to buy from a handful of private sellers without going through a background check. 

This is different from other gun shows in the state, like the Washington Arms Collectors’ show in Puyallup, also taking place this weekend. 

At that event, people can only buy guns if they are part of the association. Being a member requires a background check.

Instead, at Wes Knodel’s show at the Tacoma Dome, buyers of private sellers sign a receipt saying they are not convicted felons or mentally incompetent. 

Knodel said, “First there’s information the seller used to identify the person as a Washington resident, to make sure they’re of legal age to buy whatever firearm they want to buy.  Then the disclaimer says the buyer is legally qualified to buy the firearm. That’s all we can do at this time.” 

It’s all he can do, because state laws do not regulate private sellers. 

Of the 152 sellers at the Tacoma Dome this weekend, no more than a dozen are private sellers.

The remaining vendors who sell guns are licensed and required to conduct background checks. 

J.J. Arnett is one of the licensed vendors, who brought merchandise to sell from his Orting store. He said anyone buying at the show should have to go through the same steps. 

“I think they should at least have to have a concealed weapons permit, which means they’ve passed a background check,” Arnett said. 

Two private sellers, who did not wish to be identified, told KIRO 7 the receipts required by Knodel are enough. They said they currently have no way of conducting background checks, and being required to do so would discourage them from coming to these events. 

Alan Gottlieb, the founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, said, “Quite frankly, very few criminals actually buy their guns at a gun show.” 

Gottlieb is also chair of Protect Our Gun Rights, a group campaigning for the passage of Initiative 591 in the fall. I-591 aims to keep current laws in place, while a rival initiative, I-594, aims to require universal background checks in Washington. 

He said, “I’ve been a longtime supporter of background checks. The problem is how they’re done.”

Many gun rights advocates fear having formal background checks for every exchange would violate gun owners’ privacy, as the state would then have a list of names to review. 

They also told KIRO 7 this would create unnecessary problems for family members giving a gun as a gift, or loaning a gun for a relative to use. 

However, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said she is in support of Initiative 594. She also said the council may consider universal background checks at the Tacoma Dome the next time Wes Knodel wishes to use the space. 

She found out about the Tacoma Dome gun show online, after the contract was signed. 

When KIRO 7 told Strickland about the honor system of signing receipts promising the buyer is not a felon, she said, “I think it is a good effort, but I think we can do more. And so my preference – along with some other council members – is to use the full background check database.” 

Strickland also said there would be more police presence at the entrance and exit of the Tacoma Dome this weekend, because of the nature of the event.

Knodel said he would comply with any laws in place. He said he would not mind instituting background checks for every sale, though he understands the private sellers’ hesitation.

“We don’t want to turn around and tread on somebody else’s rights,” Knodel said. “We don’t want to punish somebody that is also just as conscious as we are.” 

He said the community self-regulates, where anyone trying to buy illegally usually gets caught and turned in.