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State AG issues warning to sheriffs not enforcing I-1639

(Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Following a decision by plaintiffs challenging I-1639 in court to withdraw — and then subsequently refile — their lawsuit, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a warning to sheriffs refusing to endorse the new gun measure.

RELATED: I-1639 lawsuit withdrawn, refiled with new defendants

Roughly 13 sheriffs have vowed not to enforce I-1639, passed by voters last November.

In its current form, the law represents the most sweeping, comprehensive gun control legislation in any state. It enacts waiting periods and background checks on the purchase of semi-automatic weapons, an increase to the minimum age for purchasing semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21, storage requirements for firearms, and a class-C felony for any gun owner whose firearm is used by an unlicensed party.

Sheriffs in Klickitat, Lewis, Grant, Mason, Grays Harbor, Pacific, Benton, Franklin, Adams, Lincoln, Stevens, Ferry, and Kittitas County have all expressed that they won’t enforce the measure.

And while compelling those counties to enforce a state law can be difficult, it looks like State AG Ferguson is going to give it a shot. In an open letter he issued Tuesday, he said the following.

In the event a police chief or sheriff refuses to perform the background check required by Initiative 1639, they could be held liable if there is a sale or transfer of a firearm to a dangerous individual prohibited from possessing a firearm and that individual uses that firearm to do harm. In short, the taxpayers of your city or county assume the financial risk of your decision to impose your personal views over the law.

“Enforcement discretion … cannot subvert the rule of law. All Washingtonians, including those of us in government, are equally subject to the law,” the statement continued.

Despite the forceful language, it remains hard for the state to make sheriffs enforce a law that their respective voting populations support.

“There’s no practical way you can force a local police department to enforce the law,” former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna told MyNorthwest back in November.

RELATED: Idea of sanctuary cities for guns is ‘fiction’

The raising of the age limit for purchasing semi-automatic weapons is the only part of I-1639 currently in effect. The remainder of the law goes into effect beginning July 1.

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