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Lewis County officials issue press release addressing new gun law

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Washington voters may have approved more rigorous gun control laws, but two Lewis County officials won’t be enforcing them.

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer and Sheriff-elect Rob Snaza in a joint press release Monday said the language of Initiative 594 — which requires more stringent background checks on firearms — is too vague to enforce and “criminalizes everyday activities.”

“The Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will not make criminals out of the hardworking citizens of Lewis County,” Meyer said in the press release. “I, in the exercise of my prosecutorial discretion, will not charge individuals with these types of violations.”

I-594 was passed in November by 59 percent of Washington voters, although 67 percent of voters in Lewis County opposed it. The law, which went into effect Dec. 4, requires buyers of guns at private sales and transfers — such as those at gun shows or online — to go through the same background check process required for a purchase from a licensed gun dealer.

There are some exceptions.

Background checks aren’t required for gifts between immediate family members, antique and relic guns, temporary transfers for self-defense purposes or loans for lawful hunting or sporting activities. Violations are gross misdemeanors or a Class C felony.

Despite such guidelines, Meyer said common, harmless gun activity between owners, such as temporary transfers, is technically illegal under the new law.

“If I go out with my brother-in-law and go shooting in the woods and he wants to try out my gun, we have to do a background check,” Meyer said Tuesday. “If I go skeet shooting with my brother-in-law, we can’t try out each other’s guns.”

Snaza said the sheriff’s office does not have enough resources to pursue such minor violations. He said his deputies will investigate tips about I-594 violations, but won’t necessarily hunt down offenders.

“If you are an individual and get reported, we’ll investigate, but it’s not a mandatory arrest like domestic violence,” Snaza said Tuesday.

Meyer echoed Snaza’s statement and said, “I’m not saying there will be no prosecutions, but we will not try to trap people and look for instances (of violations). Officers are not going to go out into the woods (to look for potential offenders).”

Proponents of the law, however, say Snaza and Meyer are misinterpreting it.

“The Washington State Patrol has been very clear that handing a firearm to someone (in a temporary transfer) is not a violation,” said Geoff Potter, spokesman for the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility. “The claim that the law will criminalize law-abiding citizens ... is false.”

Potter said the Lewis County officials’ press release will only confuse people.

“The law is designed to make it harder for criminals to purchase guns,” Potter said Tuesday. “The items that the prosecutor is treating as a violation are not actually violations of I-594. (These concerns) have been thoroughly addressed by the law.”

Contact Daily News reporter Lyxan Toledanes at 360-577-2586 or ltoledanes@tdn.com.

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