Grays Harbor County Sheriff Rick Scott has instructed his deputies to “take no enforcement action as it pertains to I-1639,” the sweeping gun regulation initiative passed by voters last November.
“My position is — along with other sheriffs, and we have been of this mind for quite some time — this initiative that was passed into law is very complicated, and ambiguous at best,” he said. “It’s not clear what enforcement, if any, should be taken under any given circumstances.”
Lawsuits have already been filed by opponents of the initiative. “Until such time the litigation that has been filed has been resolved, our position is to take a wait and see approach,” Scott said.
Friday, Pacific County Sheriff Robin Souvenir issued a statement similar to Scott’s, stating he has conferred with the Pacific County Prosecutor and “will continue to investigate all complaints we receive from our community members but until the legality of Initiative 1639 is resolved by the courts these initiative matters will be documented only.”
The initiative raises the legal age for purchase of semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21, requires anyone purchasing such a firearm to take a firearms safety course and undergo a background check and requires guns to be secured and subjects gun owners to criminal charges if their firearms are used in crimes by someone else. The age provision went into effect Jan. 1, the remainder will take effect July 1.
If a deputy is alerted to or notices a situation in which the provisions of the initiative might be violated, or if such a violation under the initiative was made aware to the office in the form of a complaint, it would be documented and sent to the prosecutor’s office for review, said Scott.
As Scott described in his statement Thursday, “Deputies will document such matters. However, they will take no enforcement action. Nor will we proactively initiate investigations relative to I-1639.”
There are times, depending on the situation, for example in the event of a domestic violence complaint, where protection orders are in place, “we do take firearms into custody until they can be released to somebody else of the owner’s choosing,” said Scott.
He said the ambiguity of the provisions of the initiative could put law enforcement in the path of potential litigation and liability issues.
“I don’t want to put my deputies in a position of trying to decipher the law when so many portions of it are just not clear,” said Scott.
Scott has joined other sheriffs across the state — 27 out of 39 by his count — in his response to I-1639 and its enforcement. Many are guided by a statement from the Washington State Sheriffs’ Association posted on its website Jan. 2, which reads, in part, “The initiative is being challenged in court, and concerns a topic about which many of us feel very strongly — our rights as protected by the Second Amendment. As elected Sheriffs, we are sworn to uphold all rights protected by the Constitution.”
In Scott’s statement, he writes, “As your Sheriff, I have sworn to uphold the United States Constitution and the Washington State Constitution,” and thus will not actively pursue enforcement of the provisions of I-1639.
The Daily World reached out to the State Attorney General’s Office Friday regarding Scott’s and other sheriffs’ statements regarding the initiative and was given a prepared statement from Policy Director Kate Kelly:
“We are aware of this situation and are actively monitoring developments as they occur. Attorney General (Bob) Ferguson has been clear that he is committed to protecting the legal and constitutional rights of Washingtonians, and upholding the will of the state’s voters in passing Initiative 1639. Our office is confident that Initiative 1639 is constitutional, and we intend to defend it in court.”
Soon after the passage of I-1639, The Daily World reached out to law enforcement across the county and received the following joint statement from Aberdeen Police Chief Steve Shumate and Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers. Both affirmed Friday the statement still applies.
“We have not fully digested all the requirements of this citizen initiative as it appears to have so many different points and requirements. One of our first determinations will be how much additional workload this will place on our local police departments to conduct the required background checks and/or firearms transfers. Firearms related licensing has been an unfunded mandate on local departments as it is, so more work without additional staff or budget is very concerning to us and is not sustainable. In the end, this initiative will likely end up in court on a variety of legal issues, so we are taking a wait and see approach.”
The National Rifle Association filed a lawsuit against I-1639 in Western District Court in November.
“The NRA will fight to overturn this unconstitutional initiative,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “We will not sit idly by while elitist anti-gun activists attempt to deny everyday Americans their fundamental right to self-defense.”
“We are disappointed that too many voters were fooled into supporting this 30-page gun control scheme, despite overwhelming law enforcement opposition,” said Second Amendment Foundation Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb. “This initiative is an affront to the constitutional rights enshrined in the Second Amendment and the Washington state constitution. This 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.”