Ferguson contacts WA sheriffs about enforcing gun control measure

Letter addresses points of confusion over Initiative 1639

File photo

File photo

By Madeline Coats, WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson released a “Frequently Asked Questions” document March 4 about Initiative 1639, sending letters to all 39 sheriffs across the state regarding the enforcement of a controversial gun control measure.

In his letter, Ferguson highlights examples of misunderstandings from news reports. The FAQ document addresses points he says caused confusion.

Washington residents approved the initiative by a vote of nearly 60 percent last November. I-1639 aims 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 age of possession to 21 years old, and establishes standards for safe storage of guns. It also redefines a semi-automatic rifle as an “assault rifle” under state law.

The attorney general sent a letter Feb. 12 to more than half of the state’s top county law enforcement officials who said they would refuse to fully enforce the gun control measure.

Approximately 23 of the 39 sheriffs have refused to enforce the new law. The FAQ list identified and answered 16 questions pertaining to the measure. The document responded to common questions about compliance, constitutionality, and the role of law enforcement officials with the new provisions.

According to Ferguson’s answers, residents and sheriffs still need to comply with the requirements of I-1639, regardless of any lawsuits. The law is presumed constitutional unless a court rules otherwise, the FAQ states. Police chiefs or sheriffs could be held liable for refusing to perform the enhanced background check.

Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer is extremely committed to fight for the Second Amendment of any law. The sheriff has spent 48 years enforcing the law, but does not plan to enforce I-1639.

“This law will not do one thing to make it safer for our community,” Songer said. “It will not make a difference.”

Songer said that individuals cannot protect themselves from a burglary or crime in the middle of the night if their gun is locked in a safe.

“The Second Amendment is extremely important,” Songer said. “If we lose it, we might as well lose the rest of the amendments.”

The FAQ states that I-1639 does not require law enforcement to enter a home to check on firearm storage. There are strict constitutional limits on when law enforcement can enter your home, as referenced in the document.

Ferguson ends his letter to law enforcement by stating that no court has found I-1639 in violation of the Second Amendment. However, a civil rights lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for Western Washington on behalf of several plaintiffs including people between the ages of 18 and 21, a gun store owner, the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation.

The plaintiffs allege I-1639 violates their Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

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