Much confusion has arisen in the wake of WA State’s recent ban on assault rifles. Some thorny legal issues surrounding the changing role of pawn shops and their handling of assault rifles are especially interesting. For instance, if a pawnbroker receives an assault weapon, does the law permit the pawnbroker to return the firearm to the owner on repayment of the loan? And if the owner of a pawned assault weapon defaults on the loan, does the law allow the pawnbroker to sell the firearm?
In AGO 2023 No. 5 (October 5, 2023), the WA Attorney General answered these questions.
SHB 1240 was signed into law by the governor on April 25, 2023, and became effective immediately. Its stated purpose is to limit the prospective sale of assault weapons, while allowing existing legal owners to retain the assault weapons they currently own. To that end, section 3 of the bill enacts the following prohibition: “No person in this state may manufacture, import, distribute, sell, or offer for sale any assault weapon, except as authorized in this section.” A violation of section 3 is a gross misdemeanor.
Pawnbrokers engage in the business of loaning money on the security of pledges of personal property. The term of a pawnbroker loan is ninety days. The customer may redeem their pledged property at any time during the loan period upon repayment of the loan principal, interest, and associated fees. After the term of the loan, unredeemed property on unpaid loans becomes the property of the pawnbroker.
1. If a pawnbroker receives an assault weapon, does the law permit the pawnbroker to return the firearm to the owner on repayment of the loan?
Yes. The Attorney General opined that the legislature’s express intent in enacting SHB 1240 was to allow existing legal owners to retain the assault weapons they currently own. Within the term of a pawnbroker loan, the pledgor retains ownership of the pledged article and retains the right to redeem the pledge at any time.
“The legislature’s stated intent in enacting SHB 1240 confirms this reading. The stated purpose of SHB 1240 is ‘to limit the prospective sale of assault weapons, while allowing existing legal owners to retain the assault weapons they currently own.’ Laws of 2023, ch. 162, § 1. This enacted statement is included within the plain reading of the statute. See G-P Gypsum Corp., 169 Wn.2d at 310. As RCW 19.60.061 makes clear, the pledgor remains the ‘existing legal owner’ of the assault weapon during the loan period, and thus, consistent with the legislature’s explicit intent, remains entitled to retain the assault weapons they currently own.” ~WA Attorney General.
In other words, a pawnbroker who receives an assault weapon as security for a loan may lawfully return the weapon upon repayment of the loan. Returning the assault rifle to the owner is not an unlawful “delivery.” It is merely a return of property of which the pawnbroker was a bailee.
2. If the owner of a pawned assault weapon defaults on the loan, does the law allow the pawnbroker to sell the firearm?
No. Pawnbrokers are now prohibited from selling assault weapons they receive as security to a loan. Instead, pawnbrokers may sell assault weapons to the armed forces or to a state law enforcement agency for use by that agency or its employees for law enforcement purposes.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a Firearm Offense or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.