Wilson bill enabling museum firearms displays wins unanimous approval in Senate

Longview senator’s measure exempts museums from criminal background checks

OLYMPIA — A proposal from Sen. Jeff Wilson that would allow museums to accept and exhibit privately owned guns passed the state Senate Thursday for the second time.

Senate Bill 5436 clears up a hitch in Washington’s firearms transfer law, which, with a few exceptions, imposes criminal background check requirements when guns are sold, gifted, loaned or otherwise “transferred.” The requirement poses a big problem for museums. They don’t have criminal histories that can be checked.

“I know how silly this sounds, but the plain language of the law prevents museums from accepting weapons that are loaned to them for display or are given to them,” Wilson said. “The problem is that you have to be a person in order to have a criminal background check, and museums aren’t people.”

The state’s 2014 firearms transfer law was passed by initiative and has proven troublesome for museums organizing historical and military displays. Representatives of Washington-state museums testified the law has made it impossible to loan or gift firearms, or return weapons to their owners when displays conclude.

This is the second time around for the bill, first proposed by Wilson last year. In 2022 it also passed the Senate unanimously, but the bill did not receive a vote in the House.

“Technically speaking, the state’s gun transfer law would be a problem for any corporation,” Wilson explained. “No matter what the U.S. Supreme Court says, where criminal background checks are concerned, corporations aren’t people.”