Cowlitz County Sheriff Brad Thurman said Wednesday he will wait and see if any changes are made to Initiative 1639 before moving forward with enforcement.
County Commissioners Joe Gardner and Arne Mortensen met with Thurman and Prosecuting Attorney Ryan Jurvakainen Wednesday to discuss enforcement of the firearm initiative. The meeting followed the commissioner’s Tuesday adoption of a resolution opposing the implementation of I-1639.
The resolution is a statement of the commissioners’ position on the initiative and doesn’t have any legal authority over law enforcement. Mortensen said the sheriff and prosecuting attorney are “instrumental” in how the county proceeds.
Thurman told the commissioners he wants to wait before deciding how to enforce the initiative because only one part of the measure has gone into effect and because ongoing lawsuits and potential action by the state legislature could affect how it is implemented.
“My mindset is not to do anything until we see where we’re at by July 1,” Thurman said. “Hopefully we’ll have clear direction at that time.”
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 Jan. 1, and remaining provisions take effect July 1.
Cowlitz County voted 61 percent against the initiative in November, but it passed statewide with 59 percent of the vote.
The week after the general election, the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation filed a lawsuit against the state and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, claiming I-1639 violates the U.S. and Washington state constitutions.
Jurvakainen said his office is in a “wait and see pattern” as that lawsuit moves through the court system. The prosecuting attorney and sheriff offices will continue to have discussions about the initiative and how it will affect the departments, he said.
“The reality is, the initiative places a lot of potential burden on local law enforcement,” Jurvakainen said.
About 10 citizens, including a couple local gun dealers, attended the meeting, some telling the commissioners their concerns about the initiative. Wally Wentz, owner of Gator’s Custom Guns in Kelso, said many people in the county oppose the measure.
Mortensen said any substantial changes to the Initiative will be made through grassroots efforts: “This thing is not going to win by teeth, but by getting people to realize they have power.”