Lewis County commissioners won’t pursue ‘Sanctuary County’ status on new gun laws

  • Wed Apr 3rd, 2019 1:30am
  • News

By Alex Brown

The Chronicle

Lewis County commissioners have opted not to bring up an ordinance declaring “sanctuary county” status on Washington’s new gun regulations, despite the urging of many citizens who met with county leaders earlier this year.

“We’ll wait for the courts to decide,” said county commissioner Edna Fund. “We can say all we want — ‘We don’t like this, it’s not constitutional.’ But we can’t say something is not constitutional and have it stick.”

In November, Washington voters passed an Initiative 1639, adding more extensive background checks for the purchase of semi-automatic rifles, raising the purchase age for those weapons to 21 and mandating safe storage requirements for firearms. Sheriff Rob Snaza has stated that his office will not “actively seek out violations,” and will refer incidents to the prosecutor’s office as they arrive.

A group of citizens asked commissioners to go a step further this February. During a hearing arranged by commissioners with local and statewide advocates, attendees asked commissioners to pass an ordinance declaring that the regulations will not be enforced in Lewis County.

“I will not live under tyranny,” advocate Mark Jensen said during that hearing. “I see it as extremely concerning what’s happening in this state. … We’re looking for a bold step from this commission to say, ‘No further can you go down this road of tyranny.’”

County commissioners lent a sympathetic ear during the meeting, even agreeing that they too opposed the new regulations. At the time, they said they would need further discussions to determine if they would take action.

Monday, commissioners acknowledged that their inaction in the two months since the hearing is the result of a decision not to move forward with sanctuary county legislation.

“We’re gonna let it play out in court,” said commissioner Bobby Jackson.

Fund said the prosecutor’s office had advised commissioners that such a move was not necessary. During the February hearing, civil deputy prosecutor Eric Eisenberg said that the best way for a challenge to the law to play out was in court.

“The most direct and most appropriate way to challenge the constitutionality of a law is to file suit,” he said. “Before any court has ruled on it, you’re supposed to presume that the branch of government that enacted the law was right to do so. … It’s presumed to be constitutional until it’s proven to be unconstitutional.”

The National Rifle Association and other advocacy groups have already filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the initiative.

Fund acknowledged that 70 percent of Lewis County county voters opposed the measure, and that the hearing with the gun-rights advocates in February was one of the commission’s most-watched meetings on Facebook. But despite the local fervor over the issue, commissioners determined that Snaza’s stance on enforcement was as far as the county could go.

“Our county didn’t want it to happen in the first place, but now it’s outside of our influence,” she said. “The sheriff made the statement for the county. … The Supreme Court needs to make that decision.”