Twenty sheriffs in Washington communities are refusing to enforce the state’s new limitations on assault-style weapons, The Guardian reports.
The law enforcement officers represent half of all sheriffs in the state. The new restrictions are part of Washington Initiative 1639, which was passed by about 60 percent of the popular vote last November, according to the Spokesman-Review.
While it was passed overwhelmingly in urban areas, it’s opposed in several rural communities, revealing a deep divide in the state. The defiant sheriffs are mostly from rural counties. Only four sheriffs in the state so far have publicly committed to enforcing the new restrictions, according to The Guardian.
The law is hardly draconian. Purchasers of semi-automatic rifles must now be 21 or older, undergo an enhanced background check, take a safety course, and wait 10 days to take possession of their weapon after purchase. Gun owners who fail to store their weapons safely risk felony “community endangerment” charges.
Some rural county governments have passed resolutions opposing the state law, backing up their sheriffs.
Many sheriffs are opposed to the law because they believe it’s unconstitutional.
Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer declared flatly to National Public Radio: “My plan is not to enforce it.” He said he was so opposed to the law that he would consider preventing other agencies from enforcing it, The Guardian reported.
NPR puts the number of sheriffs refusing to enforce the law at a dozen. Some will enforce parts of the law, like enhanced background checks, according to NPR.
Many in law enforcement believe they need discretion to enforce laws on the streets and in certain situations. Critics say the sheriffs are highjacking the democratic process and they fear isolated, right-wing armed communities ignoring the rule of law.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson called out law enforcement officers earlier this month for ignoring the will of the people, and warned that the failure to enforce enhanced background checks will “jeopardize public safety.”
“If you personally disagree with Initiative 1639, seek to change it. But do not substitute your personal views over that of the people,” Ferguson wrote in a letter to officers. “As public officers, our duty is to abide by the will of the people we serve, and implement and enforce the laws they adopt.”