Sher­iffs in ru­ral Wash­ing­ton won’t en­force gun law

The Columbus Dispatch - - Nation&world - By David Gut­man The Seat­tle Times

In Novem­ber, Wash­ing­ton state vot­ers passed new gun reg­u­la­tions with nearly 60 per­cent of the vote. But it turns out that the vot­ers might not have had the last word.

In at least 13 mostly ru­ral coun­ties across the state, county sher­iffs have pub­licly pledged not to en­force the new law, known as Ini­tia­tive 1639, cit­ing their per­sonal op­po­si­tion to it.

“My job as a sher­iff is to throw bad guys in jail, but it’s also to pro­tect the con­sti­tu­tional rights of cit­i­zens of our county,” Klick­i­tat County Sher­iff Bob Songer said. “I fol­low the rule of law when I be­lieve it’s con­sti­tu­tional.”

Sher­iffs in Grays Har­bor, Pa­cific, Ma­son, Kit­ti­tas, Yakima, Klick­i­tat, Grant, Ben­ton, Franklin, Adams, Lin­coln, Ferry and Stevens coun­ties — where ma­jori­ties of vot­ers op­posed 1639 — have all said they will not en­force the new law.

In King County, which has three times as many vot­ers as those 13 coun­ties com­bined, 76 per­cent sup­ported the bal­lot mea­sure, and Sher­iff Mitzi Jo­hanknecht co-wrote the ar­gu­ment in fa­vor of it in the state vot­ers’ guide. Last week, she said the ini­tia­tive “can be re­fined,” but that it’s up to the courts to de­ter­mine its con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity.

“I took an oath to up­hold the law,” Jo­hanknecht said in a state­ment. “As law en­force­ment lead­ers, we defy that oath and be­tray the pub­lic trust if we pick and choose which laws we will up­hold.”

Songer and other sher­iffs noted that of­fi­cers use dis­cre­tion all the time to de­ter­mine which laws are en­force­ment pri­or­i­ties. For ex­am­ple, sev­eral big cities in states where mar­i­juana re­mains il­le­gal have scaled back pos­ses­sion ar­rests, cit­ing racial dis­par­i­ties in en­force­ment and a lack of re­sources.

Mary Fan, a law pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton and a for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor, said the gun law is dif­fer­ent be­cause the sher­iffs are voic­ing their mo­ti­va­tions so bluntly.

“What’s atyp­i­cal about this sit­u­a­tion is they’re not say­ing, ‘Hey, we have lim­ited re­sources so we’re go­ing to fig­ure out how to best use them,’” Fan said. “They’re say­ing, ‘We don’t agree with the peo­ple and so even though we are the peo­ple’s pub­lic ser­vants, we’re not go­ing to en­force that law.’”

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