PORT TOWNSEND — One sheriff on the North Olympic Peninsula is taking a wait-and-see attitude on enforcing the state’s new restrictive gun law while another said his job is to enforce state laws.
Several sheriffs, many in Eastern Washington, have said they will not enforce the new regulations approved by voters in November.
Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said Friday he’ll wait to see whether the courts determine that the measures in Initiative 1639 are constitutional while Jefferson County Sheriff Joe Nole said his department will take it on a case-by-case basis.
“Personally, I think it’s going to be difficult to stand constitutional muster, but I’m not a constitutional attorney, so I’ll wait,” Benedict said.
Among the measures included in the initiative is a ban on anyone younger than 21 buying semi-automatic “assault” rifles, stricter background checks and making people criminally liable if their gun isn’t secured. The new law says it is a Class C felony “if you store or leave an unsecured firearm where a person who is prohibited from possessing firearms can and does obtain possession.”
While the age portion of the initiative became law Jan. 1, others parts don’t become effective until July.
The National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation have filed a lawsuit to challenge the new law.
Benedict said that when he took office he took an oath to uphold the constitution.
“Clearly, my attitude is that if it is found to be constitutional then it will be my obligation to put it into effect one way or another,” he said.
Clallam County voters were split on the measure, with 50.18 percent voting in favor of the initiative and 49.82 percent voting against.
In Jefferson County the initiative passed with 67.78 percent of voters in favor and 32.22 percent of voters against.
“The majority was for enacting the law,” Nole said. “There are constitutional arguments against it — and those will go forward in the courts — but right now what I’m faced with is enforcing the law of the state of Washington and that’s what I intend to do.”
Nole said it will be enforced on a case-by-case basis in Jefferson County and that at the end of the day it would be up to the Prosecuting Attorney to file charges.
“There’s other sheriffs that say they’re not going to enforce it, and that’s their prerogative,” Nole said. “We represent our constituents and the citizens of the county.”
Nole said he is concerned about the increased background checks. He’s unsure how his department will handle the increased workload.
Benedict referred to a statement from the Washington State Sheriff’s Association, which he said he helped author. The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office posted the statement to Facebook.
The statement underscores the association’s opposition to the initiative, saying that sheriffs have expressed concern that the initiative places greater restrictions on law-abiding citizens while creating unreasonable expectations regarding how those restrictions would be enforced.
“As elected Sheriffs, we are sworn to uphold all rights protected by he Constitution,” the statement says. “First and foremost, we are sworn to uphold the Rule of Law and the Constitution.
“We reaffirm our strong support for the Rule of Law and for the Courts to be the separate but equal branch of our government that interpret that law.”
Like Nole, Benedict expressed concern about implementation of the new law, saying that parts of it are unfunded.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.