Not only have a majority of Washington State’s county sheriffs publicly announced they will not enforce provisions of the voter-approved gun control Initiative 1639, a second county commission passed a resolution opposing the measure while one major state daily newspaper has chastised the lawmen for their stances.
The Stevens County Commission unanimously resolved this week to oppose I-1639. According to KXLY News, Commissioner Steve Parker said the initiative “is dangerous and damaging to citizens, law-abiding citizens.”
The Tacoma News Tribune editorialized that “Washington residents should be distressed by a growing parade of sheriffs who’ve said they won’t enforce” the initiative, which the newspaper described as a “gun-safety measure.” I-1639 is pure gun control, all 30 pages of it, according to critics, who believe it illegally encompasses multiple subjects, unconstitutionally requires a “literacy test” to own a so-called “semiautomatic assault rifle” and deprives, under color of state law, young adults of their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Language in the editorial might suggest to I-1639 opponents that the newspaper is trying to downplay the opposition. “The number of agitators is now in double digits; sheriffs in more than 10 of the state’s 39 counties — mostly east of the Cascades, but also in the state’s southwest corner — have said they won’t enforce I-1639,” the editorial states. Actually, it appears there are now at least 20 county sheriffs and two county commissions—Stevens and Cowlitz—that are lined up in defiance of the measure, which passed by more than 59 percent in November.
Long story short, sheriffs argue that the measure is unenforceable and probably unconstitutional. The newspaper says that’s for the court to decide.
I-1639 raises the minimum age for buying and owning a semi-auto rifle, and it literally defines any semi-auto rifle as a “semiautomatic assault rifle,” which particularly distressed Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. He told reporters a few days ago that, “There is no such thing as an assault rifle…If there were such things as an assault rifle, you wouldn’t have to create the definition. And what they did was they created the definition of an assault weapon, an assault rifle, which includes every semiautomatic rifle there is. The rifle that I’ve used to hunt small game with for the last 40 years is now an assault weapon. That’s what they did.”
And why did I-1639 invent a definition for a “semiautomatic assault rifle?” Knezovich explained it thusly: “That’s all this bill was really designed to do; was to make that definition. Why is that important? Because of Step two. Step two will be to ban all assault weapons, and when they do that they will have effectively banned every semiautomatic rifle there is.”
Not all county sheriffs are declining to enforce I-1639. King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht issued a statement this week: “As Sheriff, I took an oath to uphold the law. As law enforcement leaders, we defy that oath, and betray the public trust, if we pick and choose which laws we will uphold. While I agree the Initiative, as written, can be refined, it is ultimately up to the courts, not law enforcement, to decide whether Initiative 1639 is constitutional.”
If Johanknecht believes that, why did she sign the argument for I-1639 in the state voter’s pamphlet last fall?
I-1639 is already being challenged in federal court by the Second Amendment Foundation and National Rifle Association, along with two firearms retailers and a handful of private citizens. There may be other lawsuits, filed by other plaintiffs, on the horizon, challenging provisions of the initiative. Lawsuits take money and right now, I-1639 opponents don’t have the billionaire backing that the Seattle-based gun prohibition lobby enjoys.