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Cowlitz County directs law enforcement to ignore 'unconstitutional mandates' related to Second Amendment

Conceal carry at BLM protest

Counter-protesters carry firearms at a Black Lives Matter demonstration at Kelso City Hall on July 13, 2020. The Cowlitz County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday aimed at preventing enforcement of restrictive gun control laws locally. The measure is not legally binding.

As President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress push for expanded gun control measures, the local county commission wants to prevent such rules from being enforced locally.

The Cowlitz County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution Tuesday declaring the legislative body won’t support the “enforcement of firearms laws which are repugnant to the state and federal constitutions.”

The commissioners agreed on the resolution during a workshop March 17 and approved it Tuesday. The resolution has no legal authority over law enforcement, but encourages the county sheriff and prosecuting attorney to “continue discretion in non-enforcement of unconstitutional mandates infringing on the right to keep and bear arms.”

Commissioner Arne Mortensen said he proposed and pushed the resolution after a constituent emailed him about it, mentioning that many counties across the country doing something similar.

Mortensen said the resolution was “rational” amid the pressures in Olympia to pass more gun control bills.

“I thought it was important in this time to show Olympia the sentiment of the people,” he said.

The resolution was not in response to a specific state or federal law, but is a “catch all” that emphasizes national sentiment as well as a strong Cowlitz County sentiment, Mortensen said.

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After sending the draft to the commissioners, sheriff and prosecuting attorney a couple weeks ago, Mortensen said the board “hashed out” the language during last Wednesday’s meeting.

Mortensen said he didn’t receive comments on the resolution from the county prosecuting attorney or the sheriff. The Board of Commissioners is responsible for funding both agencies.

Sheriff Brad Thurman said Tuesday he read over the resolution and didn’t object.

Commissioner Dennis Weber proposed several changes to Mortensen’s original draft, including adding “except by due process of law” to the clause stating there is no constitutional authority to restrict individual unalienable rights.

Weber said it was important to acknowledge that rights can be infringed on by due process if someone has committed serious crimes.

Mortensen said he argued against adding the phrase because he didn’t want to make the resolution confusing.

“Certainly when someone is taken into custody they take away their guns,” he said. “We have the mentality where common sense doesn’t apply, so we have to specify certain things.”

Weber also pushed to add a reference to the “militia of the United States” mentioned in the Second Amendment. Mortensen said the addition was unnecessary.

“It (the resolution) is basically an affirmation of the oath we take to uphold the constitution, as long as we make sure it’s accurate and doesn’t leave things out,” Weber said.

Weber said commissioners previously discussed how gun control rules enacted in the past couple years were “a little over the top” and some gun control proposals in Congress also go too far.

“It gets down to do you believe that guns kill people or that people use guns to kill people?” Weber said. “People affected by gun control are the people that follow the laws. It’s kind of self-defeating if you’re trying to protect people. Illegal gun users are still going to break the law.”

Weber said there are other solutions to crime and recent mass shootings point to the “serious need for significant improvements” in treating severe mental illness.

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