Last November, Washington State voters passed Initiative 1639 into law that approved stricter gun control measures on handguns and semiautomatic rifles.
On Tuesday, Feb. 12, State Attorney General Bob Ferguson wrote an open letter to law enforcement and issued a strong warning to police chiefs and county sheriffs — to enforce the new law or be held liable for refusing to perform enhanced background checks required by I-1639.
One of the first questions that should be asked by voters to law enforcement officials, “Why is the law not being enforced?”
Like serving in the military, it’s a soldier’s duty to follow orders and to carry them out, without question. That’s the role when one wears the uniform and swears to defend their country.
Legal issues for law enforcement officials could result from a gun sale that would have been prevented if it goes through and someone uses that gun in a crime.
The Washington State Sheriff’s Association issued a statement on their website regarding their public opposition of I-1639.
They expressed concerns about rights protected by the Second Amendment. Law enforcement officials in at least 13 of the state’s 39 counties, including Yakima and Benton County Sheriffs, have gone on record that they will not actively implement the measure.
“Local law enforcement are entitled to their opinions about the constitutionality of any law, but those personal views do not absolve us of our duty to enforce Washington laws and protect the public,” Ferguson wrote.
I-1639 was intended 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 minimum age to purchase semiautomatic rifles and establishes standards for safe storage. It has not yet gone into effect. Only the higher age limit, raised from 18 to 21, is now in effect. The rest of the law goes into effect July 1.
According to the office of the Secretary of State Kim Wyman, I-1639 was adopted as state law by nearly 60 percent of the people.
“No action by a city council or county commission can change this state law or the responsibilities and duties that the law vests in Washington’s law enforcement agencies,” said Ferguson in his letter.
The primary responsibility for local police agencies under the new law is to carry out the enhanced background checks — searching at least three state and federal databases and checking for outstanding warrants and pending criminal charges.
The duty associated with this part of the law appears to have been routinely performed for years on anyone who tries to buy a handgun.
The question that Ferguson posed to law enforcement officials, “Why refuse to perform them for semiautomatic assault rifles?”
City or county taxpayers will assume the financial costs of liability in potential civil lawsuits from individual(s) harmed as a result of a sheriff or police chief refusing to comply with his or her legal obligation.
The next question taxpayers should ask, “When did the police begin to enact the laws for the public to follow?”
“This is not a situation where the federal government is trying to force the state to enforce federal laws,” Ferguson wrote. “If you personally disagree with Initiative 1639, seek to change it. Or file a lawsuit challenging it. But do not substitute your personal views over that of the people.”