Washington’s gun initiative would toughen background checks for semiautomatic rifles
Franklin County is one of the first counties in Washington to formally oppose Initiative 1639, the voter-approved measure to restrict semiautomatic assault rifles.
In a 3-0 vote Tuesday, the county commission approved a resolution declaring its opposition to the initiative and affirming its support for the right of citizens “to legally purchase, own and possess firearms as authorized under the U.S. and state constitutions.”
Franklin County wasn’t the only county taking action on I-1639 Tuesday. TDN.com reports the Cowlitz County commissioners passed a similar resolution, declaring its belief the initiative is unconstitutional.
It isn’t clear if any other counties have taken a similar position. The Association of Washington Counties said the issue is a low priority and is not being tracked.
The move by Franklin County commissioners affirms Sheriff Jim Raymond’s prior instructions to deputies not to arrest individuals if they encounter I-1639 violations but to document them for review by prosecutors for possible charges.
Newly-elected Commissioner Clint Didier proposed the resolution, saying Franklin County needed to make plain its commitment to the Second Amendment and to back up its sheriff.
I-1639 passed statewide with 59 percent of the vote in the Nov. 6, 2018 general election, largely on the strength of support in Western Washington. The initiative was unpopular locally, with nearly 60 percent of voters in Franklin County casting “no” votes.
Supporters call the initiative a reaction to gun violence but opponents call it unconstitutional.
The National Rifle Association, which backed the No On I-1639 campaign, and the Second Amendment Foundation challenged the constitutionality of the initiative in a federal suit filed shortly after the election.
The complaint alleges I-1639 violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution along with the second and 14th Amendments. Plaintiffs include two firearms dealers and a 19-year-old who competes in high-powered rifle competitions.
The case is pending in U.S. District Court for Western Washington.
Sheriff won’t enforce initiative
Didier said he was motivated by the sheriff’s instructions to deputies last fall.
In a Nov. 12, 2018 memo , the sheriff directed his deputies to document I-1639 issues, but not to arrest anyone if they come across potential violations.
Raymond said the prosecutor’s office, not deputies, should decide a violation.
“I believe that’s within my constitutional right as sheriff,” Raymond said Tuesday.
Didier applauded the move.
“I want to make sure our sheriff knows we have his back,” he said, adding that his resolution would “let the West Side know they don’t run Eastern Washington.”
I-1639 opponents packed Tuesday’s commission meeting after Didier posted Raymond’s November memo and meeting details on his Facebook page.
Tuesday, his supporters encouraged Franklin County to take the lead on the expectation more counties will follow.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” said Franklin County resident Jeff Osmond.
“There is safety in numbers,” agreed Kent McMullen of Pasco.
Earlier this month, the police chiefs of Richland and West Richland and a local gun shop owner said they were holding off on enforcing the part of the law that took effect in January, holding off until the full law kicks in on July 1.
A ‘garbage’ initiative
Commissioner Brad Peck initially opposed Didier’s resolution on procedural grounds.
A U.S. Air Force veteran, Peck called himself a staunch Second Amendment supporter who thinks I-1639 is “garbage.”
Peck said he was concerned taking a stand could pit citizens’ rights to bear arms against their rights to pass initiatives. Franklin County could be caught up in costly litigation, he said.
“I don’t want to be in a position of picking and choosing which constitutional right I want to support,” he said.
A slight tweak to the resolution resolved the issue for him, he said and he joined Didier and Commission Chair Bob Koch in adopting it.
Peck said he will travel to Olympia next week to push lawmakers to consider legislative fixes.
The wide-ranging initiative enhances background checks for “semiautomatic assault rifles,” raises the age to buy them to 21, from 18, increases waiting periods and sets new storage requirements.
The law is being implemented in phases.
Franklin County resident LaWanda Hatch encouraged county leaders to fight the new limits on gun ownership on two fronts — through a resolution and through the Legislature.
“There is nothing better than having leverage when you go to Olympia and there’ is nothing stronger than have a resolution supporting the sheriff,” she said.
“Our constitutional right to bear arms is stronger than an initiative.”