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Washington voters said yes to tough new gun law; at least 13 county sheriffs say no to enforcing it

Published: February 10, 2019
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Sheriffs in Grays Harbor, Pacific, Kittitas, Yakima, Klickitat, Grant, Benton, Franklin, Adams, Lincoln, Ferry and Stevens counties have all said they will not enforce the new law.

In November, Washington voters spoke overwhelmingly, passing with nearly 60 percent of the vote a sweeping array of new gun regulations.

“I took an oath to uphold the law,” Johanknecht said in a prepared statement. “As law enforcement leaders, we defy that oath and betray the public trust if we pick and choose which laws we will uphold.”

Songer and other sheriffs noted that officers use discretion all the time to determine which laws are enforcement priorities. Every time an officer sees a car driving over the speed limit he uses discretion in how to enforce the law. And several big cities in states where marijuana remains illegal have drastically scaled back possession arrests, citing both racial disparities in enforcement and a lack of resources.

Mary Fan, a law professor at the University of Washington and a former federal prosecutor, said the gun law is different because the sheriffs are laying out their motivations so bluntly.

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I-1639 was the most ambitious gun-regulations ballot measure in state history. It makes it illegal for anyone under 21 to buy a semi-automatic rifle, the same as it is for handguns. It requires 10-day waiting periods and more thorough background checks for anyone buying those rifles. And if a teenager or someone who can’t legally own a gun uses one in a crime, the gun owner could be held responsible, if the gun was stored carelessly.

The National Rifle Association and the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation have filed a lawsuit in federal court, claiming the law violates the U.S. and Washington constitutions and should be thrown out. The state Attorney General’s office asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit on procedural grounds, since most of the law has not yet gone into effect.

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