Washington state voters last fall approved the most restrictive gun-control measures since the Florida high-school shooting, but sheriffs in a dozen conservative counties in the state are refusing to enforce the law until courts decide whether it’s constitutional.
“I swore an oath to defend our citizens and their constitutionally protected rights,” Grant County Sheriff Tom Jones said, the Associated Press reported. “I do not believe the popular vote overrules that.”
The ballot initiative, passed by about 60 percent of voters, raised the minimum age for buying semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. Along with added expanded background checks and gun-storage requirements, it required buyers to pass a firearms safety course.
The National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation have filed a federal lawsuit charging the purchasing requirements violate the Second Amendment.
The complaint also contends the law unconstitutionally regulates interstate commerce, infringing on the federal government’s authority.
The sheriffs refusing to enforce the law are in 12 mostly rural, conservative counties: Grant, Lincoln, Okanogan, Cowlitz, Douglas, Benton, Pacific, Stevens, Yakima, Wahkiakum, Mason and Klickitat.
The police chief of the town of Republic also has declared he will not enforce the new law until the courts weigh in.
Renee Hopkins, chief executive of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which promoted the initiative, accused the sheriffs of “political grandstanding.”
“If they do not (run the background checks), we will have a huge problem,” she said.
The AP quoted Lincoln County Sheriff Wade Magers pointing out that than 75 percent of voters in his Eastern Washington county voted against the initiative. He asserted the new rules were unenforceable.
Meanwhile, sheriff’s offices in King County, which includes Seattle, and Clark County, near Portland, Oregon, have declared they will enforce the law while it’s in litigation.
Second Amendment Foundation Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb said when the lawsuit was filed that the measure “will have a chilling effect on the exercise of the constitutional rights of honest citizens while having no impact on criminals, and we will not let it go unchallenged.”
The lawsuit targets the new age restriction and does not directly challenge the enhanced background checks or training requirements. But the Second Amendment advocates are asking the court to block the entire law until it determines whether the other provisions can be separated from the case.