The Cowlitz County commissioners Tuesday passed a resolution opposing the implementation of Initiative 1639 after hearing public comment for weeks against the measure.
Commissioners Joe Gardner and Arne Mortensen supported the resolution. Commissioner Dennis Weber was absent.
The commissioners previously spoke against creating a “Second Amendment sanctuary county” but plan to discuss with the sheriff and prosecuting attorney what the county can do to legally oppose the I-1639. A number of law enforcement leaders and local governments across the state have announced opposition to the measure and plan to not enforce it.
Earlier this month, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson told a Kennewick television station that he is confident the law is constitutional. It was a response to a Spokane-area prosecuting attorney who said I-1639 is “invalid and does not need to be obeyed.”
Wahkiakum County Sheriff Mark Howie condemned the initiative in December and said his office will take enforcement case by case.
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I-1639 mandates background checks for what it calls “semi-automatic assault rifles” and raises the minimum age for purchase and possession of such weapons from 18 to 21. The measure also establishes storage requirements. The minimum age change went into effect January 1 and the rest of the provisions go into effect July 1.
The commissioners’ resolution states that I-1639 and similar bills restrict the rights of citizens as protected by the U.S. and Washington state constitutions. It says the initiative will cause economic hardship for small firearms dealerships, burdens and price increases on those lawfully buying guns and have a direct negative effect on local economies. (The resolution is attached to this story online.)
Scott Hooper, owner of On Target Outdoors in Castle Rock, told the commissioners Tuesday the initiative’s new background check requirements will put more burdens on local law enforcement by requiring them to review gun purchase applications in addition to federal system checks.
Kalama resident Ron Madderra echoed concerns of others who said that the initiative punishes law-abiding citizens, rather than deterring criminals.
“Do we want people in our country to be monitored that closely for buying a legal firearm?” Madderra said.
The commissioners’ resolution states it considers I-1639 or any similar legislation to be “unconstitutional and beyond lawful application.”
“With this resolution, we appreciate that the public is understanding how much government has usurped the rights of the people,” Mortensen said Tuesday.
Cowlitz County voted 61 percent against the initiative in November, but it passed statewide with 59 percent of the vote.
I-1639 supporters argued that 18- to 21-year-olds have less developed capacities for decision-making and impulse control and commit a disproportionate number of firearm homicides in the U.S. They also argued that semi-automatic rifles lead to far more deaths in mass shootings and should require a higher degree of training and background checks.
Sarah East, who led Longview’s “March for Our Lives” event last year, spoke Tuesday in favor of the initiative. East told the commissioners the initiative had public support and the thorough background checks and other aspects of the measure are important safety measures.
“I appreciate the Constitution, but it will change as we as a society change and grow,” East said. “I think respecting the law is important.”
The commissioners are scheduled to discuss the enforcement of I-1639 with Sheriff Brad Thurman and Prosecuting Attorney Ryan Jurvakainen during Wednesday morning’s workshop. The meeting is open to the public.
Mortensen said while there is a lot of emotion surrounding this initiative, related policy decisions move slowly because officials have to consider unintended consequences.