Repercussions could come to law enforcement who refuse I-1639, AG says

‘State and local law enforcement must uphold Washington law.’

At a gathering in Seattle on Valentine’s Day, Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson gave warning to state law enforcement leaders who vocalized plans to disregard Initiative 1639.

On the anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the governor was joined by gun violence advocates at the University Heights Center. On an upper floor, a discussion on gun reform happened. Below, children laughed and classrooms hushed, in the center that acts as a community hub for learning-and-arts programs. Together they remembered the loss of 17 students last February in Parkland, Florida.

Students were the ones to take a vocal stand against gun violence following the Florida school shooting, said Nara Kim, executive director of March for Our Lives Seattle.

“Besides Generation Z, our most common name is the post-Columbine generation,” she said. “We are defined by experience with gun violence. We are categorized by the active shooter drills we are forced to experience.We are represented by our countless lockdowns. We are characterized by the numbness we have begun to feel in response to shootings.”

Just two days ago on Feb. 12, an open letter sent to Washington sheriffs and police chiefs refusing to enforce I-1639 made it clear — “if you personally disagree with Initiative 1639, seek to change it,” the letter from Ferguson reads.

Another part reads “like all laws passed by the people of Washington and their representatives, Initiative 1639 is presumed constitutional. No court has ruled that this initiative is unconstitutional.”

After the legislation passed, Grays Harbor County Sheriff Rick Scott told The Daily World (a sister newspaper to the Reporter) that the legislation was “complicated and ambiguous at best.” He said he would take a “wait-and-see approach,” until issues are sorted out in court. Following the open letter, Scott said he and the other sheriffs he spoke with would conduct the background checks as directed.

Last November, the Second Amendment Foundation, a Bellevue-based organization, along with The National Rifle Association, filed a lawsuit against the state and attorney general in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. They claim I-1639 violates the U.S. Constitution.

“Ferguson sent an open letter to county sheriffs, demanding that they enforce the law despite their concerns about its constitutionality,” said SAF executive vice president Alan Gottlieb, in a news release. “In that letter, Ferguson referred to Article 1, Section 1 of the State Constitution, about political power being inherent to the people. He seems to have overlooked Article 1, Section 24, which states that the right to bear arms shall not be impaired, but he endorsed a measure that is loaded with impairments, and that’s why we are, and will remain, in court.”

Just recently, they changed the defendants of their suit, replacing the AG with Clark County sheriff Chuck Atkins, Spokane police chief Craig Meidl and the director of the State Department of Licensing Teresa Berntsen.

The law passed by 60 percent of the state vote in 2018. Enhanced background checks on semi-automatic firearms and a raising of the minimum purchase age on these weapons to 21 is some of what’s been approved. Parts of the new law were enforced beginning in January. Others don’t take effect until July.

Dave Workman, senior editor of The Gun Mag, a publication owned by the SAF, said the organization opposes these new age purchase restrictions, and the Second Amendment rights of young adults ages 18-20 are being taken away.

“Because of acts of a couple people, one teenager in Mukilteo and one crazy kid down in Parkland, Florida, why should all these other people be penalized for criminal acts of a couple people?” he said.

After approval, sheriffs from 13 counties said they wouldn’t uphold the new rules. Inslee said despite the claims made by these law enforcement leaders, the law would be enforced.

“While we respect everyone’s right to express themselves, including sheriffs, it is not acceptable to refuse willfully, for no reason except their personal ideology, to enforce the laws of the state of Washington,” Inslee said.

Paul Kramer, a citizen sponsor of the initiative, called the group of sheriffs against 1-1639 a part of “a loud minority.” He was frustrated, he said, given that his son Will was shot at a party in Mukilteo in 2016.

“… lives were tragically cut short because an angry young man was able to walk into his local Cabelas and walk out minutes later with a semi automatic assault rifle,” Kramer said. He later added that if I-1639 had been in place in 2016, “the gunman who shot my son would not have been able to purchase the semi-automatic assault rifle he used.”

Ferguson said while state and local governments do not have an obligation to enforce federal laws — including those pertaining to marijuana and immigration — they have a responsibility to uphold state laws.

“If they don’t do it and someone gets into possession of an AR-15 who should not legally possess one, because an enhanced background check was not done and something terrible happens, that law enforcement official and taxpayers of that jurisdiction could most certainly be liable for suit,” he said.

Most of those against the law serve primarily in the more eastern parts of the state. But a majority have not come out against the initiative.

On Feb. 6, King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht said the oath she took was to uphold the law. “As law enforcement leaders, we defy that oath, and betray the public trust, if we pick and choose which laws we will uphold. While I agree the initiative, as written, can be refined, it is ultimately up to the courts, not law enforcement, to decide whether Initiative 1639 is constitutional.”

In closing for the event, Kim warned that similar to the legislators she warned would be voted out if they didn’t fight for gun reform, the same could be said of law enforcement leaders opposing I-1639.

“Young people in Washington are counting on you to do your job to help prevent another Parkland (shooting),” she said. “We are here to demand action and that we take action to give us a future free from gun violence.”


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