Rural Sheriffs Are Refusing to Enforce Washington's New Gun Law

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In November, Washington voters approved I-1639, a gun control measure aimed at limiting the sale and use of semi-automatic rifles by raising the legal buying age to 21, mandating enhanced background checks, firearms training courses, and instituting a 10-day waiting period. But in rural gun country, local police and sheriffs are refusing to enforce the new law.


Per the Wall Street Journal’s reporting on Wednesday, it’s not just a few holdouts. There are more than a dozen law enforcement officials who’ve said they won’t enforce the law, which passed with 59% of the vote statewide:

At least 16 elected sheriffs, primarily from rural, conservative counties that voted against the measure, say they won’t enforce the law because they believe it is unconstitutional. Most have been vague about which parts they won’t impose.


“I’m morally opposed to any law that’s really against our Second Amendment rights,” said Brad Manke, sheriff of Stevens County in northeast Washington, where Initiative 1639 received only 27% support. “It’s difficult to have laws forced upon you.”

The NRA and Second Amendment Foundation are challenging the law in court, and some sheriffs say they want to wait to see how that case shakes out before enforcing the law in communities that voted against it. This has the veneer of a reasonable argument, except that that’s not how it’s supposed to work when your job is law enforcement. As the Journal notes, the sheriffs aren’t being specific as to which bits of the law they’re going to turn a blind eye on, which makes this all the more troubling. As Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson pointed out to the paper, if sheriffs just abruptly stopped background checks of gun buyers, it would endanger lives:

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, sent a letter Tuesday to the state’s sheriffs and police chiefs, warning that they could be held liable if they fail to perform a background check on a person who ends up using a gun to do harm.

“I am deeply concerned that the failure of local law enforcement to perform Initiative 1639’s background check requirement will jeopardize public safety in our state by allowing the sale of semiautomatic assault rifles to dangerous individuals,” he wrote.

This is made all the more insane when you look at the new law, which doesn’t mandate gun owners lock up their guns and doesn’t even ban 18-to-20-year-olds from possessing semiautomatic weapons—just from buying them, according to the Seattle Times.

Still, enhanced background checks and a 10-day waiting period are all useful tools in reducing gun violence, and ones that have been ludicrously hard to get past the NRA’s vice grip. The sheriffs in question and their constituents might not like them, but choosing to let things like this slide absolutely isn’t in their job description.