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May 27, 2022

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Inslee and Ferguson urge gun dealers to support I-1639

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SPOKANE — Gov. Jay Inslee and state attorney general Bob Ferguson are urging gun dealers in Washington to abide by the terms of a gun control initiative that was easily passed by voters last November.

Inslee and Ferguson, both Democrats, sent a letter Thursday to 262 gun dealers who operate in counties where sheriffs have indicated they will not enforce the so-called Initiative 1639, which passed with 60 percent of the vote.

“Despite what some of these sheriffs would have people believe, no one has the ability to pick and choose which laws to follow,” said Inslee, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

Inslee added: “Our state’s voters overwhelmingly approved stronger background checks and gun safety measures, and dealers will be required to comply with those laws.”

The letter noted that, as a condition of their federal licenses, gun dealers are required to comply with state and federal law. Unless a court rules otherwise, laws and initiatives are presumed to be constitutional. No court has struck down any provision of the initiative.

Local Angle

Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins issued a statement last month that said his office will enforce all firearms laws, including Initiative 1639.

“The Clark County Sheriff’s Office will adhere to the law as passed by a vote of the people unless a court rules that it is unconstitutional,” reads the statement. It said the sheriff’s office will evaluate the statutory requirements of I-1639 and “adopt policy consistent with state law and any subsequent judicial rulings.”

The letter warns dealers of the possibility of license revocation or state or federal criminal charges if they break the law.

An initiative prohibition on selling semi-automatic assault rifles to those under age 21 is already in effect and remaining provisions go into effect July 1.

Among the remaining provisions are expanded background checks on all sales of semi-automatic rifles that will be the same as those that have been performed on handgun sales for many years, Inslee and Ferguson wrote. There are also new gun storage requirements and other provisions.

Also Thursday, a Portland-based human rights group called the Western States Center complained that initiative opponents are trying to intimidate elected officials into not enforcing the law.

“We encourage the state of Washington and its elected officials to stand firm in the face of intimidation,” said Eric Ward, the group’s executive director.

Ward said sheriffs in about half of Washington’s 39 counties, many of them rural and conservative, have said they won’t enforce the new law until the courts decide whether it is constitutional.

The initiative raised the minimum age for buying semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, required buyers to first pass a firearms safety course and added expanded background checks and gun storage requirements, among other things.

The National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation have joined to file a lawsuit in federal court alleging the initiative is unconstitutional.

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