Wary of new gun law, Lynden museum to pull WWII rifles from exhibit

The Lynden Pioneer Museum will remove World War II-era guns from a current exhibit and return them to their owners, to avoid violating the new background-check law, according to the museum’s director.

The new law, passed by voters this month as Initiative 594, requires background checks on the recipients of guns in all sales or transfers, with exceptions for family members and antiques.

The 11 rifles the museum borrowed from collectors for the exhibit are too new to qualify as antique under the law, and I-594 is silent on any exemption for museum displays.

“I read through the law about 10 different times looking for a loophole,” said Troy Luginbill, the museum’s director.

The exhibit, “Over the Beach: The WWII Pacific Theater,” which includes vehicles, radios, photographs and journals, as well as guns, will continue until May 1 as scheduled.

On Facebook, the museum encouraged people to visit before Dec. 3 to see the “very rare and unique firearms” on display. The museum is at 217 Front St.

The weapons in the exhibit include an anti-tank rifle, a rare Johnson M1941 used in the war by a Marine paratrooper, and a Japanese infantry rifle used by a U.S. Navy man, Luginbill said.

“The museum will be returning these guns to their owners because as of Dec. 4, we would be in violation of the law if we had loaned firearms that had not undergone the background check procedure,” the museum posted Thursday, Nov. 13, on Facebook.

The museum’s attorney told Luginbill the board had two choices: Comply with the law or challenge it. The board decided not to take a chance.

“We have elected to comply with the law as we understand it,” Luginbill said in an interview on Monday, Nov. 17. “The ideal situation would be if someone comes along from the state and says, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ If that happens before May 1, we can put the guns back on display.”

The Washington State Patrol did not return a phone call requesting comment on enforcement against a museum’s gun display.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he had not formed an opinion on the initiative and could not interpret it for specific situations.

“To date, there have not been any lawsuits filed against I-594, nor has our office received any opinion requests,” Ferguson said in a statement to The Bellingham Herald. The attorney general may issue an opinion on a legal question if certain state leaders or county prosecuting attorneys request one.

“At this point we have no interpretations of the initiative to offer to the public beyond the text of the measure itself,” Ferguson said.