Inslee, Ferguson at odds with sheriffs over gun-control initiative

Washington’s gun initiative would toughen background checks for semiautomatic rifles

Voters in Washington state will decide this fall on Initiative 1639, which would toughen background checks for people buying semiautomatic assault rifles and requiring safe storage of firearms.
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Voters in Washington state will decide this fall on Initiative 1639, which would toughen background checks for people buying semiautomatic assault rifles and requiring safe storage of firearms.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson are urging gun dealers in Washington to abide by the terms of a gun-control initiative that was passed by voters last November.

Inslee and Ferguson, both Democrats, sent a letter earlier this month to 262 gun dealers who operate in counties where sheriffs have indicated they will not enforce Initiative 1639, which passed with 60 percent of the vote.

“Despite what some of these sheriffs would have people believe, no one has the ability to pick and choose which laws to follow,” said Inslee, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Inslee added: “Our state’s voters overwhelmingly approved stronger background checks and gun safety measures, and dealers will be required to comply with those laws.”

The letter noted that, as a condition of their federal licenses, gun dealers are required to comply with state and federal law. Unless a court rules otherwise, laws and initiatives are presumed to be constitutional.

No court has struck down any provision of the initiative. The letter warns dealers of the possibility of license revocation or state or federal criminal charges if they break the law.

Local sheriffs oppose initiative

Franklin County was one of the first to formally oppose the new regulations after the beginning of the year, and Sheriff Jim Raymond said the letter won’t change what he’s doing.

“Shame on the attorney general and governor for sending out letters to honest and compliant gun businesses with threatening remarks to take away their business licenses,” he said. “Sounds to me like government trying to vilify businesses with veiled threats.”

Raymond promised not to arrest anyone for violating the new regulations that made it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 buy a semi-automatic rifle after Jan. 1. Instead, he told deputies to file a report with the prosecutor’s office.

Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher took a similar stance when he announced his opposition to the initiative.

“I have worked closely with all of the chiefs and sheriffs in Benton and Franklin counties and the Benton County prosecuting attorney on I-1639,” he said in a Jan. 30 letter to residents. “We unanimously feel without clarification the initiative as written is non-enforceable.”

He did not comment on Ferguson’s and Inslee’s comments.

Neither Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant nor Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller have received any referrals from police about violations.

Store owners seek court ruling on I-1639

Several gun store owners are holding off on putting the new restriction in place because the definitions for the weapons involved don’t go into effect until July 1. Miller agreed with the statement.

At the same time Raymond promised not to arrest anyone for violating the measure, the Franklin County commissioners signed off on a resolution opposing the initiative.

Benton County commissioners are considering a similar resolution, along with possibly moving to make the county a Second Amendment sanctuary. Similar to the sanctuary cities and counties that seek to protect undocumented immigrants, this movement seeks to oppose gun restrictions.

An initiative prohibition on selling semi-automatic assault rifles to those under age 21 is already in effect, and remaining provisions go into effect July 1.

Among the remaining provisions are expanded background checks on all sales of semiautomatic rifles that will be the same as those that have been performed on handgun sales for many years, Inslee and Ferguson wrote.

There are also new gun storage requirements and other provisions.

A Portland, Oregon-based human rights group called the Western States Center has complained that initiative opponents are trying to intimidate elected officials into not enforcing the law.

“We encourage the state of Washington and its elected officials to stand firm in the face of intimidation,” said Eric Ward, the group’s executive director.

Ward said sheriffs in about half of Washington’s 39 counties, many of them rural and conservative, have said they won’t enforce the new law until the courts decide whether it is constitutional.

The initiative raised the minimum age for buying semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, required buyers to first pass a firearms safety course and added expanded background checks and gun storage requirements, among other things.

The National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation have filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging the initiative is unconstitutional.

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