OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson has sent letters to all 39 sheriffs across the state saying that gun-control measure Initiative 1639 must be enforced.
The law is presumed constitutional unless a court rules otherwise, according to the AG’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document released Monday.
Police chiefs or sheriffs could be held liable for refusing to perform the enhanced background check.
Washington residents approved the initiative by a vote of nearly 60 percent last November.
The provision that raises the minimum age to legally purchase a semi-automatic rifle to 21 took effect Jan. 1.
The rest of the provisions go into effect July 1.
Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said he wants to see if the courts determine that the measures in I-1639 are constitutional.
“If it is found to be constitutional, yes, I will enforce it, but it will require funding,” Benedict said Tuesday.
“I will not take deputies off the road to enforce this.”
Benedict said Ferguson’s letter “does clarify a lot of stuff.”
“But I have some concerns because no one has figured out how this is going to get implemented,” he added.
Benedict said the FBI will stop background checks under the new law and that counties will be required to establish databases for gun sales.
“The Legislature is going to need to figure out who’s going to pay for this, because it is an unfunded mandate strictly speaking,” Benedict said.
“Nowhere in there does it say how it’s going to pay for itself.”
Jefferson County Sheriff Joe Nole has said that he will enforce the law unless the courts rule otherwise.
In his letter, Ferguson highlights examples of misunderstandings from news reports. The FAQ document addresses points he says caused confusion.
I-1639 aims to increase public safety by reducing gun violence and accidents.
The law creates an enhanced background check system, requires individuals to complete a firearm safety training course, raises the age of possession to 21 years old and establishes standards for safe storage of guns.
It also redefines a semi-automatic rifle as an “assault rifle” under state law.
The attorney general sent a letter Feb. 12 to more than half of the state’s top county law enforcement officials who said they would refuse to fully enforce the gun-control measure.
Approximately 23 of the 39 sheriffs have refused to enforce the new law.
The FAQ list identified and answered 16 questions pertaining to the measure. The document responded to common questions about compliance, constitutionality and the role of law enforcement officials with the new provisions.
According to Ferguson’s answers, residents and sheriffs still need to comply with the requirements of I-1639 regardless of any lawsuits.
Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer is extremely committed to fight for the Second Amendment of any law. The sheriff has spent 48 years enforcing the law, but does not plan to enforce I-1639.
“This law will not do one thing to make it safer for our community,” said Songer. “It will not make a difference.”
Songer said that individuals cannot protect themselves from a burglary or crime in the middle of the night if their gun is locked in a safe.
“The Second Amendment is extremely important, said Songer. “If we lose it, we might as well lose the rest of the amendments.”
The FAQ states that I-1639 does not require law enforcement to enter a home to check on firearm storage. There are strict constitutional limits on when law enforcement can enter your home, as referenced in the document.
Ferguson ends his letter to law enforcement by saying that no court has found I-1639 in violation of the Second Amendment.
However, a civil rights lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for Western Washington on behalf of several plaintiffs including people between the ages of 18 and 21, a gun store owner, the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation.
The plaintiffs allege I-1639 violates their Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Much of this story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].