I sent the following over to Jessie Jones this evening. I do not expect he will call for an interview but it will likely get some raised eyebrows over at KIRO.


Summer is upon us, how is your boating safety knowledge?

December 2014 I-594 the controversial background check law went into effect. What this has to do with boater safety could mean the inadvertent commission of a felony. No matter where you stand on the issue it has ramifications for boater safety in Washington

The standard Orion 12 Gauge Flare gun (or similar), “Pistol-Projected Parachute Red Flare Distress Signals1” are indeed classified as firearms. The problems become the purchase of said firearm/flare gun as a required boater safety device and the mandatory background check required for purchase. Certain people are prohibited from possessing these mandatory safety devices as they are considered firearms.

Looking at the RCW for the definition of firearm reveals a problem.
(9) "Firearm" means a weapon or device from which a projectile or projectiles may be fired by an explosive such as gunpowder.
(10) "
Gun" has the same meaning as firearm.
Matthew Noedel of the Washington State Patrol crime lab evaluated and subsequently affirmed3 the commonly used boaters signal flare gun is in fact a firearm.
Now if you look at federal law4 there is some disparity.
(3) The term “firearm” means
any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive;

There is no mention of a "device" in Federal law.

Devices in RCW include such things as powder actuated nail guns and marine signalling 12 gauge flare

I-594 has subsequently been codified in part to RCW 9.41.113
5 and requires:
"All firearm sales or transfers, in whole or part in this state including without limitation a sale or transfer where either the purchaser or seller or transferee or transferor is in Washington, shall be subject to background checks unless specifically exempted by state or federal law. The background check requirement applies to all sales or transfers including, but not limited to, sales and transfers through a licensed dealer, at gun shows, online, and between unlicensed persons."

An email to the Federal Jurisdiction, Coast Guard District 13
Recreational Boating safety office6 garnered the following reply.

I-594 is a state law and not recognized by the Federal Government and unenforceable by the Coast Guard. As far as the implications from state law enforcement inspection you would have to contact the Washington State Attorney General's Office for a determination/ clarification on the impacts of I-594 with regards to visual distress signals and how they are interpreted and enforced under state law.


Dan Shipman
Recreational Boating Safety
13th Coast Guard District

Now, if it isn't up to the state to enforce the law when Walmart and West Marine have these firearms for sale on their shelves and offers these items for sale over the internet to residents of the state of Washington without requiring the background check then exactly who is it up to enforce the law?

I have been trying since January to get some clarification on this and have met with resistance and recommendations to hire a lawyer to interpret the law. I don’t need a lawyer to interpret the law, it is very clear. Unfortunately I cannot ask for the Attorney General opinion as suggested by Mr. Shipman.
Perhaps it would be easier for the legislature to amend the law, but in the mean time you could be a felon boater and not even recognize it.

1. CFR 46 §160.024-1
2. RCW 9.41.10
3. Matthew Noedel, WSP crime lab report
4. 18 U.S. Code § 921 - Definitions
5. RCW 9.41.113
6. Coast Guard District 13 Recreational Boating Safety Office