The Washington State Patrol has issued a mea culpa letter that acknowledges the agency “clearly caused concern” among Evergreen State firearms dealers over a request that they provide names, addresses and other information about every AR-15 sale since last July 1.
The letter (see complete text below) comes after more than 200 messages flooded the voice mailbox of a WSP detective who was working on the case of a missing AR-15 rifle that – as this column suggested here – was a WSP-owned rifle. The WSP letter has been reproduced on the Seattleguns.net forum here.
You all have likely received e-mails and/or phone calls from constituents who are questioning why the Washington State Patrol is inquiring about recent gun sales, specifically involving AR-15 rifles.
The WSP has a rifle that is unaccounted for from our inventory and we cannot discount the possibility that it was stolen. Out of an abundance of caution, we opened a criminal investigation and entered the weapon into the statewide computer system as stolen.
As we do in virtually every investigation, we sought information from people we considered knowledgeable, in this case, licensed gun dealers. The letter to dealers was simply a request for cooperation, and there is no legal requirement for the dealers to provide such information. This is no different than when we canvass the area of a crime seeking information that may assist in solving the case.
We clearly have caused concern as to our intentions with those involved in gun sales. We sincerely regret any alarm that was caused or confusion about our motive. We are not creating any sort of registry of these transactions; we are merely trying to solve this specific case.
We are still interested in receiving information about this missing weapon, and are asking anyone who has knowledge of unusual transactions, involving AR-15s or their components to provide that information to the WSP.
Our Criminal Investigation Division is working with the National Rifle Association (NRA) to provide clarification regarding the initial letter and the reasoning behind the request. We hope that resolves the concern from the NRA and puts their members at ease. We are also actively engaged with the media on this topic in an effort to provide transparency.
“Service With Humility”
Captain Jason Berry
Government and Media Relations
According to WSP Lt. Charles LeBlanc, the agency will now send a letter to all firearms dealers in the state that contains the serial number of the missing rifle, in the event someone tries to sell it or bring it in for other work. In this follow-up letter, the WSP will be “asking for” dealer assistance in finding the missing rifle or the person who took it.
The letter will make it clear that dealers are under no obligation to provide information on other gun sales.
LeBlanc was initially contacted last Thursday by Miko Tempski, an attorney on the staff of the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, after several alarmed and angry retailers from all over the state began calling SAF for advice on how to respond to the original letter, which asked for the following information:
Please 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 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 your company purchased from a private party.
· Any and all names, date of births, addresses, phone numbers, date of transaction and serial number from the purchaser.
One such letter was reproduced on the Northwest Firearms forum here and ignited a furious discussion among Northwest gun owners speculating about the WSP’s motives and intentions. This column initially discussed the WSP inquiry here, and it garnered a surprising number of hits from the Facebook forum. There was a follow-up yesterday, prior to WSP’s mea culpa note.
SAF immediately began asking dealers for copies of the letter, and now has a stack of them, signed by WSP Capt. Michael Dahl with the agency’s Criminal Investigations Division. The detective conducting the actual investigation is Tacoma-based Juli Gundermann, who did not return calls to this column. Lt. LeBlanc suggested that she was simply overwhelmed by the number of calls in her inbox, which numbered just over 240 when she arrived at her office Monday morning.
Dealers also began calling the Seattle office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, demanding to know what was going on. ATF spokeswoman Cheryl Bishop insisted to this column that her agency was caught completely off-guard by the flap.
“They didn’t consult us,” Bishop said about the original WSP letter, which was dated March 9.
Yesterday, the National Rifle Association got involved and issued an alert to its members, asserting that WSP was on an “apparent fishing expedition.” (This column chatted with NRA News Monday evening about the controversy.)
It seems preposterous to the NRA that the WSP would conceivably request this massive amount of sensitive data, in a search for ONE AR-15! It is the NRA’s view that there must be more to this story, a lot more. The NRA has placed two phone calls into the WSP today in search of clarifying information but has yet to receive any response on the matter. The NRA has also followed up with a letter of inquiry which notes that dealers are under no obligation to comply with the request.—NRA Alert
Gun dealers from Seattle to Spokane began calling their state legislators, who are currently in session in Olympia. Sources confirm that State Patrol Chief John Batiste began hearing from lawmakers almost immediately.
The missing rifle is a semiautomatic, according to LeBlanc. He said the agency does not have any full-auto AR-15s. He would not say from where the gun was apparently taken, but did acknowledge that the investigation is looking for a specific name to pop up in a transaction; apparently pointing them to a suspect they are already looking at.
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