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Dec. 8, 2019

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In Our View: I-1639 is state law and should be enforced

The Columbian
Published: July 3, 2019, 6:03am

Several provisions of Initiative 1639, which was passed by Washington voters last year, went into effect Monday. That calls for reiteration of one of I-1639’s immutable facts: Unless a court rules otherwise or voters overturn their 2018 decision, the gun-control measure is the law of the state.

That fact has drawn scorn from many advocates, who claim the initiative violates the United States and Washington constitutions. The issue has generated much discussion, both before and after the election in which I-1639 passed with 59 percent of the vote (Clark County supported the measure with 54 percent).

For the record, The Columbian editorially opposed I-1639. But we would argue even more forcefully that now it should be enforced. Upholding laws that — for now, at least — are constitutional is one of the bedrocks of our form of representative democracy.

Still, some sheriffs throughout the state have said they will not enforce I-1639, and Yacolt officials last month passed a resolution declaring the town a sanctuary from the law. Considering that Yacolt does not have a police department and contracts with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, that would seem to be an empty gesture.

Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins has said his office will enforce I-1639, and Atkins has been named as part of a lawsuit in federal court designed to overturn the initiative. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson also has been sued as part of a challenge to the law.

It might take years for the legal process to play out, but in the meantime, one of the clearest examinations has come from Washougal city attorney Ken Woodrich, who in February wrote: “Until a statute is either overturned or stayed by the courts, it is presumptively constitutional and an ordinance or rule adopted contrary to a statute is pre-empted and legally null and void. Failing to enforce the statute would violate the oath of office sworn to by law enforcement officers, elected officials and the city manager.”

Therein lies the short-term question surrounding I-1639. While critics of the law claim they are defending the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, such self-proclaimed scholars should take a broader view of the issue. Should a jurisdiction have the right to proclaim itself a sanctuary for drunk drivers or those who perpetrate domestic violence? Should it be allowed to ignore state law regarding, say, the sale of alcohol to minors?

Indeed, those issues do not pertain to the Bill of Rights, which Initiative 1639 might. But they do speak to the specious desire of a county or city to ignore state law and create fiefdoms governed by scofflaws.

Rather than ignoring I-1639, activists should be pushing to again place the issue in front of voters. Or urging the Legislature to overturn the initiative — or at least the most objectionable portions of it. Or waiting to see whether the courts provide a redress, either at the federal or state level.

Instead, neglecting a law passed by voters must be considered anathema by citizens who claim to support and defend the constitutions of the United States and Washington. It often has been stated that the United States is a land of laws, not men or women. Suggesting that a particular law should not be defended violates that premise and undermines the foundation of a law-abiding nation.

Perhaps Initiative 1639 will be overturned by the courts. Perhaps it will be altered or tossed out by the public or the Legislature. But for now it is the law in Washington; it should be afforded the respect that law deserves.

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