Sheriffs in several conservative Washington counties are refusing to enforce the state’s new restrictions on semi-automatic rifles until the courts rule if the laws are constitutional or not.
The measure in question passed last November raised the minimum age from 18 to 21 to purchase semi-automatic rifles, added expanded gun storage requirements and background checks, and requires buyers to pass a safety course before being granted a license.
Both the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) have filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing along with the sheriffs the measure is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle by the NRA and SAF arguing the measure violates both the 2nd and 14th Amendments as well as gun sellers’ rights protected by the Commerce Clause. The suit does not take issue with training requirements or background checks.
The Washington state sheriffs serve in twelve mostly rural counties including Franklin, Benton, Cowlitz, Douglas, Grant, Klickitat, Mason, Okanogan, Pacific, Stevens, Wahkiakum, and Yakima. Several local police chiefs have also refused to comply with the statute.
When Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson moved the lawsuit be dismissed on procedural grounds, NRA lawyers withdrew the case and refiled, adding the state Department of Licensing, the Clark County Sheriff, and the Police Chief of Spokane as defendants.
Sheriff Wade Magers of Lincoln County said 75 percent of voters in his county voted against the bill and called the new rules unenforceable.
Grant County Sheriff Tom Jones told the Associated Press, “I swore an oath to defend our citizens and their protected rights. I do not believe the popular vote overrules that.”
Supporters of the new law expressed their disappointment with the Sheriff’s stand but note they do now have to enforce the law until it goes into effect on July 1.
Renee Hopkins, the chief executive of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, told reporters that the Sheriffs are looking for headlines. She told the Associated Press: “The political grandstanding is disheartening. If they do not [run the background checks], we will have a huge problem.”
Washington Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, said yesterday that Sheriffs who refuse to enforce the new gun laws may be held liable should someone they refused to perform enhanced background checks on used a gun purchased in their counties to commit a crime.
In an open letter, the state AG wrote, “In the event a police chief or sheriff refuses to perform the background check required by Initiative 1639, they could be held liable if there is a sale or transfer of a firearm to a dangerous individual prohibited from possessing a firearm and that individual uses that firearm to do harm, the taxpayers of your city or county assume the financial risk of your decision to impose your personal views over the law.”
The Sheriff’s do not have an issue with background checks or any current gun laws. What they have an issue with is the constitutionality of state law I-1639.
Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond said he has no intention of enforcing an unconstitutional law. Saying he supports a 10-day waiting period and the enhanced background checks. He told reporters, “Certainly we’re going to follow all of those type of things.”
Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer also affirmed his support for legal background check but echoed Raymond’s determination to uphold the constitution. “Officers have discretion,” said Songer, “I follow the rule of law when I believe it is constitutional.”
Grant County Sheriff Tom Jones said he has a large voter base that is solidly pro-Second Amendment. He believes the citizens of his county “have a right to the have [the] challenge and appeals process play out.”
Jones said in a statement. “I swore an oath to defend our citizens and their constitutionally protected rights. I do not believe the popular vote overrules that.”
Anyone who has taken a military oath knows both commissioned and enlisted members pledge to protect the constitution against all enemies “foreign and domestic.”
Along with that comes the question of what constitutes a lawful order. Since World War II, it has been firmly established that one cannot claim they have no choice but to obey an unlawful order. Apparently, these brave sheriffs know their history and the constitution better than Washington State’s chief legal authority.
Once again, it is obvious anti-gun forces have little regard for the constitution or the people on the front lines of enforcement. Their goal is nothing less than an end to the 2nd Amendment.