In a telephone conversation with Liberty Park Press, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich detailed his opposition to gun control Initiative 1639, passed by voters in November, and suggested Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who is demanding that sheriffs enforce the measure, is being selective in his choice of laws to enforce.
The initiative raises the minimum age for persons wanting to buy semiautomatic firearms classified as so-called “assault rifles,” and also requires proof of firearms training, a so-called “enhanced background check,” a 10-day waiting period and other tenets. A majority of Washington sheriffs, including Knezovich, have announced they will not be actively enforcing the initiative’s requirements. However, they will conduct background checks because they already do those.
But Knezovich believes that at least parts of the initiative are unconstitutional, especially a safe storage requirement, because the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark 2008 Heller ruling noted that a firearm storage requirement mandated in Washington, D.C. was declared unconstitutional. The late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion and noted, “We must also address the District’s requirement (as applied to respondent’s handgun) that firearms in the home be rendered and kept inoperable at all times. This makes it impossible for citizens to use them for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional.”
Knezovich says the initiative’s storage requirement is also unenforceable because “They essentially didn’t define what safe storage is.”
“How are we supposed to enforce something that isn’t defined,” he wondered.
Knezovich told the Spokane Spokesman-Review, in response to Ferguson’s enforcement demand, that the Democrat attorney general “is playing gun politics rather than protecting citizens’ rights.”
“It’s just another example of grandstanding from this attorney general’s office,” Knezovich told the newspaper.
He essentially reiterated the same thing to Liberty Park Press, adding that Ferguson seems to turn “a blind eye” to issues or arguments that do not go along with his agenda.
In the weeks since the age limit part of I-1639 took effect, Knezovich said he has been contacted by hundreds of people including a lot of Democrats who are now alarmed at what the measure requires. They may have voted for the initiative because they were told it was a “school safety” effort, but the sheriff said “it has nothing to do with school safety.” The sheriff estimated he had received some 500 telephone calls over the past couple of weeks, and only three of those contacts were upset about his stance on the initiative.
He also criticized the State Supreme Court for allowing the initiative on the 2018 ballot after it was stricken by a Thurston County Superior Court judge for not complying with state initiative requirements. He blamed the “activist justices on the court” for allowing the initiative to be decided by voters.
One issue on which he did agree with Ferguson was the argument that if people don’t like a law they should change it. Knezovich sees a mounting opposition to the new law now that more people realize what they voted for. That could lead to changes, if not repeal, he suggested.
“I think the progressive liberals have grossly misperceived the people’s tolerance on this,” he said.
Asked if he thinks public alarm about what the initiative requires could overcome well-financed efforts to protect the new law, Knezovich said, “I always caution people about underestimating the power of the grassroots.”
Knezovich reiterated something he stated during a press briefing several days ago. He said I-1639’s real purpose was to invent a definition for “assault rifle.”
“It created a definition of something that doesn’t exist,” the sheriff said. “I was in the U.S. Army. My rifle was never called an ‘assault weapon.’ They passed this initiative to create that definition to include every semi auto in the state.”
And then he recalled that Ferguson had previously advocated for a ban on so-called “assault weapons.”
“This is the extreme gun control agenda in action,” he said, noting that his Ruger 10/22 rifle, with which he has hunted small game for decades, is now an “assault rifle” under the sweeping definition contained in I-1639.
With a revised federal lawsuit, filed by the Second Amendment Foundation and National Rifle Association, filed in federal district court last Friday, replacing the original lawsuit that named Ferguson as a defendant, it could be a while before I-1639’s constitutionality is determined. In the meantime, it does not appear that Knezovich, or any of the other sheriffs who are reluctant to enforce the law, will be changing their minds.