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Monday, February 26, 2024
Feb. 26, 2024

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For nearly a decade, WA state museums couldn’t accept firearms. A state senator and Cowlitz County museum changed that.

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LONGVIEW — It took a change to Washington state law for the newest item to be added to the Cowlitz County Historical Museum’s collection.

When the museum first tried to accept an antique Remington rifle to its collection in 2021, they discovered they were blocked by Washington’s background check requirement. That led to a push by Museum Director Joseph Govednik and Washington Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, to tweak the state law.

The museum accepted the gun to their collection during a small ceremony Wednesday morning with Wilson and Longview donor Hans Schaufus. Govednik and Wilson said they believe it was the first legal firearm acquired by a Washington museum in nine years.

“Like any object … firearms tell stories of those who used and carried them,” Govednik said. “They help tell our hunting, law enforcement and military heritage, but also they have an industrial story to tell.”

The donated firearm is a .22 caliber Remington Model 4 rifle built in 1904. Govednik said the gun doesn’t have a local historical origin, but the rifle — with a unique “rolling block action,” — is unlike the museum’s other guns and could be displayed in an exhibit highlighting the history of firearm mechanics.

The restriction on gun transfers to museums was a side effect of the background check requirement Washington voters passed in 2014 — the first time voters enacted a broad firearm background check rule through a ballot initiative. The law enacted by the state Legislature included transfer exemptions for groups like immediate family members, law enforcement and licensed collectors, but not museums.

Since most museums are run as nonprofits, Govednik said they couldn’t complete background checks and were left with no way to add firearms.

“Not all museums want firearms, but they supported this bill because it’s a heritage issue,” he said.

Wilson’s Senate Bill 5436 added museums and historical societies to the list of exemptions for background checks. A similar bill stalled out during the 2022 legislative session, but the measure passed the House and Senate unanimously this year and the law went into effect in July.

“In a legislative atmosphere where guns and gun violence are debated constantly, the best part is this bill was able to separate itself from that discussion,” said Wilson, who sponsored the bill.

Multiple guns are already in the museum’s collection. One wall shows a pair of rifles from the Cowlitz Indian Tribe that were bent inoperably in the late 1800s. Another collection includes a revolver from Cowlitz County Sheriff Elmer E. Huntington, who served from 1901 to 1905, as well as 1960s revolver from Longview Chief Kermit White.

Schaufus said he has owned the 1904 rifle since the late 1950s, when he bought the single-shot gun for $8 as a 16-year-old in Ohio. The rifle was donated with a factory letter from 1971, stating the serial number was traced to 1904 when it cost $6.40.

The weapon still functions, though Schaufus said he hasn’t fired it for decades. Ammunition wasn’t donated with the gun and Govednick said the rifle will be securely locked in the museum’s storage collection until displayed.

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