The “Gap” between a Law “Passing” and being “Enforced”

There is sometimes a misconception that when an initiative is passed into law that it will start being enforced the next day. While those that promote these initiatives wish this were the case, often times (maybe most of the time) its enforcement lags much further behind.

One of the reasons is that the legal system needs time to fully understand the law, communicate it to their agencies and individuals, and then ensure they have the time (and manpower) to enforce it. What this all boils down to is that there is usually a “lag time” from passing something into law and the enforcement of that law.

CAUTION: Please don’t take this as meaning you should not obey or support laws that have recently been passed…this is never a good idea regardless of the law.

Take for example the “Background Check” law that was passed in the state of Washington back in 2014…initiative 594. This law required a background check on the sale of any firearm…in addition to some other aspects of this initiative. But apparently, it wasn’t until just recently that the first arrest was made for someone violating this law…now in late 2016. That’s almost 2 years after the initiative was passed into law.

In this particular case, as reported in The Washington Times, the gun was sold from one individual to another without going through the proper background check. The gun was later used in a homicide which brought it to the attention of law enforcement. The person selling the firearm violated Initiative 594 and transferred the firearm illegally according to this particular law.

The article, “Prosecutors: Former Oak Harbor man broke gun check law,” describes more of the details of this situation. The person selling the gun was charged with violating this law and is supposedly the first case to come forward in violation of the law.

The issue isn’t that someone was finally charged with breaking this law…the issue is that it has taken almost 2 years to enforce the law. I would venture that there have been many other violations of this law, based on how it was written, but so far this is the first case recorded. Why does this happen? As I mentioned in the beginning, new laws generally take time to fully implement. There is a lot of education and training in the law that has to happen before the law enforcement agencies can start to arrest people based on this new law.

In addition, there may be a need for more personnel to not only enforce the law but to handle all the administration of the law…the process after an arrest. All this takes time, money, and personnel. So often times, laws that hit the books tomorrow may not be fully implemented for some time down the road.

Another caution…this doesn’t mean you should to obey the laws because they take time to implement. This simply means you might not be seeing immediate action on a law right after it is passed into law.

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