Rural museum's WWII exhibit saved from scope of new gun laws

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Tough new gun controls in the state of Washington had the director of a small-town museum ready to pull nearly a dozen guns from a World War II exhibit, until a local firearms dealer helped him ensure the display was legal.

Troy Luginbill, who runs the Lynden Pioneer museum, in Lynden, a town of 12,000 in the northwest corner of the state just five miles from the Canadian border, said he pored through Initiative 594, a law passed earlier this month, and determined an exhibit entitled “Over the Beach: The WWII Pacific Theater” could spell trouble for the tiny museum. The exhibit features 11 guns of World War II vintage, on loan from various collectors.

"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,” read a posting on the museum’s Facebook page. “Nor would we be able to return those firearms unless the owners completed the back ground check procedure."

One requirement of the new law requires background checks for all weapons, including those on loan from a registered owner in what may be considered a transfer.

“We fall into this gray area,” Luginbill told “We are playing it better safe than sorry.”


The law makes exceptions for antique guns, but to qualify, the firearms must predate 1898. Although the law is not retroactive, meaning the museum would not immediately have to have any background checks performed. But Luginbill, the museum's only full-time employee, said he was concerned about the financial burden of having to perform background checks in order to return the weapons to their owners after the exhibit ends next May. Then a local gun shop owener came forward and volunteered to cover the cost of approximately $400 for background checks for each of the guns.

“It’s a financial hardship for them to pay for the fees to register the guns,” said Melissa Denny, owner of Pistol Annie’s Jewelry and Pawn in nearby Bonney Lake, told “So we decided to step up and help. It’s normally a $40 fee for each weapon. We just waived it for them.

“I like to champion for the underdog because we are one of them,” added Denny, who opened up her shop two years ago.

Some said Luginbill was being overly cautious and that the new law was never meant to apply to cases like his.

“[The law] is about making sure people buying guns go through a background check to ensure they're not convicted felons, domestic abusers, or the seriously mentally ill,” Geoff Potter, spokesperson for Washington Alliance for Gun responsibility, a sponsor of the initiative, told “Our view is this situation has nothing to do with 594 and the museum should feel confident in continuing to display the exhibit as scheduled without issue. “

State law enforcement officials told that they were never planning to go after museums to enforce the new law.

“Initiative 594 is a very new situation due to take effect in December,” Sgt. Will Knudson, spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, said in a statement to “The Washington State Patrol has no intent on proactively entering museums to determine if the display of a museum is in compliance.”

Luginbill said he was never going to take the chance.

“The fact of the matter is that we do not have a lot of money,” he said. “We would not be able to afford to defend ourselves in court.

“Our first and foremost duty is to preserve history,” he added.