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NRA’s I-1639 lawsuit withdrawn, then refiled with new defendants

(AP)

The NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation have withdrawn a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Washington’s voter-approved I-1639. And they have filed an entirely new one in its place.

Unaware of the new lawsuit, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility issued a statement Tuesday morning responding to the voluntary dismissal by the gun rights groups. Renee Hopkins, CEO of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility said:

We have always been confident that Initiative 1639 would withstand this challenge. While this is not exactly the path we expected, the outcome is the same: Initiative 1639 remains the law of the land in Washington. A number of law enforcement officials have come forward recently claiming they will not enforce the initiative while this challenge makes its way through the courts. Now that there is no longer a pending lawsuit, we expect these sheriffs will stop playing politics with the safety of their communities and resume doing their job by enforcing the laws of our state and respecting the will of Washingtonians.

Tallman Trask the Alliance for Gun Responsibility said the NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation had withdrawn the previous lawsuit without giving a reason. Though pleased, he acknowledged that the legal battle was not over.

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“The Second Amendment Foundation and the National Rifle Association and those folks always signaled that they had a multiple lawsuits planned that they built out; that they were going to be working and trying to challenge this in the courts more than once,” Trask said, suggesting that’s what was happening here.

While the new lawsuit was filed last week, attorneys say they had not been able to serve the defendants yet because snow had shut down the court clerk’s office. So the Alliance was unaware of its details when it released the statement.

Washington voters approved I-1639 by 59 percent.

A new I-1639 lawsuit

This latest lawsuit names the Department of Licensing, the Spokane police chief, and Clark County sheriff as defendants. This is because they are entities responsible for issuing and revoking licenses for firearms dealers — in this case, if someone were to violate the selling of a semi-automatic rifle to someone under 21. The plaintiffs are from those two counties, that’s why those particular law enforcement agencies are named.

Trask said it wasn’t the first time the gun rights groups had filed a lawsuit, but delayed serving it. Alan Gottlieb with the Second Amendment Foundation said the Alliance jumped the gun with its statement.

“I don’t know why the Alliance put a release out, it’s sloppy on their part,” Gottlieb said.

As far as what has changed in the new lawsuit, it’s the defendants.

“The Attorney General has been dropped as a defendant because he says he shouldn’t be a defendant in the case and defend the law. So we named a police chief and a sheriff instead,” Gottlieb said.

Ferguson’s office responded to that claim.

“We pointed out that they could not sue the Attorney General for some of their claims, but did not ask to remove the Attorney General as a defendant,” said Brionna Aho, Communications Director for the state Attorney General’s office.

Gottlieb says the actual legal argument challenging the new gun laws remains the same, as do the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit contends I-1639, “drastically rewrites statutes governing purchase, sale, and ownership of firearms in common use in the state of Washington. It thereby infringes the Plaintiffs’ right under the Commerce Clause … and the Second and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”

I-1639 raised the age to buy semi-automatic rifles to 21. It also established a requirement for more background checks and training, as well as a safe storage component that could lead to criminal charges and several other new laws.

The age requirement is the only part of the law that has taken effect so far, the remainder takes effect later this year.

More than a dozen sheriff’s and police chiefs in the state have opted not to enforce the new laws until the legal battle plays out.

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