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12 WA sheriffs refuse to enforce new gun control law

Wall of rifles at a gun store. (Michael Saechang/Flickr)
February 11, 2019

A dozen Washington sheriffs have come forward to declare a new state gun law as “unconstitutional” and unenforceable, and they are refusing to enforce the measure.

Washington Initiative 1639, the “Changes to Gun Ownership and Purchase Requirements Measure,” passed in the November 2018 election, mandating an increase in the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21.

Now 12 sheriffs are refusing to enforce it until a court rules on its constitutionality, Fox News reported Monday.

The law contained multiple parts, with the age restriction having gone into effect on Jan. 1, and the remaining parts due to take effect later in the year.

The law also mandates that gun buyers complete a safety course prior to purchase, undergo a more rigorous background check, and be subjected to gun storage restrictions.

Shortly after the initiative was passed in November, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Second Amendment Foundation declared the law unconstitutional and filed a lawsuit in a federal court. They argue that the age restriction violates the 2nd and 14th Amendments, as well as the rights of gun sellers as provided by the Commerce Clause.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich was among the first of Washington’s law enforcement officers to denounce the law as unconstitutional.

He took to Facebook to post a Q&A with local reporters and citizens, in which he called the law unconstitutional and declared he won’t stand behind it or endorse it.

Now at least 12 sheriffs, in predominantly rural counties, have made the same public declaration. Sheriffs from Grant, Lincoln, Okanogan, Cowlitz, Douglas, Benton, Pacific, Stevens, Yakima, Wahkiakum, Mason and Klickitat counties are joined by the Republic city police chief in the movement.

The sheriffs’ declaration has come with hefty backlash.

Aside from gun control advocates accusing them of “political grandstanding,” the sheriffs have received a slew of threats over social media.

“Sheriffs that are non compliant will be shot. by me,” said one Facebook user.

“Ozzie Knezovich is gonna get a bullet in his skull,” another user said.

Others aimed their threats at Republicans, even likening them to terrorists.

The initiative was passed with nearly 60 percent of the statewide vote. However, in some conservative counties like Lincoln County, some 75 percent voted against it.

“I swore an oath to defend our citizens and their constitutionally protected rights,” Grant County Sheriff Tom Jones said. “I do not believe the popular vote overrules that.”

The Alliance for Gun Responsibility backed the initiative and claims that only a small number of law enforcement have criticized the law. The group’s CEO, Renee Hopkins, is concerned about the repercussions of the non-enforcement.

“If they do not [run the background checks], we will have a huge problem,” Hopkins said.