Most Washington State Sheriffs Refuse to Enforce Disputed Gun Law

Published March 23, 2019

The sheriffs of more than half the counties in Washington State will not take steps to enforce new state regulations on semiautomatic rifles, the constitutionality of which are under dispute in a federal lawsuit, according to news reports.

Washington State’s Initiative 1639, passed on November 6, 2018, raised the minimum age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21, effective January 1, 2019. Provisions for buyers to pass a safety course before purchasing a firearm, expanded background checks, and gun storage requirements take effect July 1, 2019.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) have filed a federal lawsuit arguing the measure is unconstitutional.

Exercising Discretion

Government officials often exercise discretion in enforcing laws, says Lennie Jarratt, a project manager at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News.

“The right of a sheriff or other law enforcement officer to ignore certain laws is still a question that is going to eventually be worked out in court,” said Jarratt. “While some argue they must enforce every law, that simply cannot happen with the number of laws being created all the time,” Jarratt said.

“Then there is the consistency argument,” Jarratt said. “In some states and localities, sheriffs refusing to enforce immigration laws is deemed appropriate. Refusal to enforce laws restricting the Second Amendment has a much stronger constitutional justification and is therefore far more justifiable.”

Sheriffs will ultimately be held accountable at the ballot box, says Jarratt.

“For elected officials, listening to the voters is a long and proud tradition,” said Jarratt. “If the voters don’t like this lack of enforcement, they will vote the official out of office at the next election.”

Arguing Constitutionality

The NRA-SAF lawsuit argues the Washington law misclassifies ordinary recreational firearms in common use as ‘assault’ weapons and denies young adults their right to self-protection.

“The NRA is committed to restoring the Second Amendment rights of every law-abiding Washingtonian,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, in a press release.

“The NRA will fight to overturn this unconstitutional initiative,” said Cox. “We will not sit idly by while elitist, antigun activists attempt to deny everyday Americans their fundamental right to self-defense.”

The NRA-SAF filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in February.

Owen Macaulay ([email protected]) writes from Hillsdale, Michigan.