AG, Gov. Inslee target firearms dealers

Roger Harnack

Gov. Jay Inslee and State Attorney General Bob Ferguson have 262 firearms dealers in thier crosshairs in counties were law enforcement and others have vowed not to enforce Initiative 1639.
In a letter mailed this morning, the Democrats threatened licensed dealers with civil, and possible criminal action, should they violate any of the provisions of I-1639, a gun-control measure.
The measure, which generally went into effect Jan. 1, raises the age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle to 21, redefines the firearm as an “assault rifle,” mandates more stringent training and background checks, and requires firearms dealers to sell gun safes and trigger locks. The law also makes owners criminally liable if their firearm is used in any incident — even if the gun was stolen.
Sheriffs in at least 23 counties have vowed not to enforce the measure, calling it unconstitutional. Furthermore, several county commissions and municipal authorities have said they will not enforce the measure in their jurisdictions.
In the letter signed by both Inslee and Ferguson, the duo threatens business owners who conduct business outside the bounds of the initiative.
“The Washington State Department of Licensing is statutorily required to inform the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives if any licensed firearms dealer in Washington State is out of compliance with state law,” the letter said. “Should any violation of state law be found, this may be reported to the ATF and state law enforcement.
“Second, the ATF has the authority to find you have violated state law, which may affect your federal firearms license and could potentially lead to federal criminal charges.”
The letter is in response to several firearms dealers who continue to sell semi-automatic rifles to adults ages 18-20 because of a loophole that doesn't redefine the firearm as an “assault rifle” under state law until July 1.
“Violations of Initiative 1639 constitute violations of state law and could be punished accordingly,” the letter said. “Violations of state law could be investigated by either local law enforcement or the Washington State Patrol, and such an investigation could lead to state criminal charges.”
The letter to dealers follows a Feb. 12 open letter Ferguson wrote to county sheriffs cautioning them about refusing to enforce the initiative and a recent “frequently asked questions” flyer distributed to law enforcement agencies.
In his letters, Ferguson claims that Washingtonians “overwhelmingly” passed I-1639.
But voting records show his claim is only accurate in the urban areas of Puget Sound.
In Eastern Washington, 18 of 20 counties voters rejected the gun-control measure, some counties voters opposition topped 75 percent.
In many instances, local officials and residents said they couldn't support the measure because it is unconstitutional.
In Thursdays letter to firearms dealers, Ferguson and Inslee say that position is irrelevant.
“We understand certain officials in your county have publicly said they will not enforce Initiative 1639 because they believe it is unconstitutional,” the letter said. “They are entitled to their personal views, but it is important to emphasize that, once passed by the people or the legislature, a law is in effect until a court declares it unconstitutional.”
The National Rifle Association and Second Amendment Foundation have challenged the constitutionality of the law in court; but it has not been heard yet.
The letter continues to caution firearms dealers, and calls out anti-1639 officials for inaccurate statements about the law.
“We want to prevent you and your business from finding yourself in legal jeopardy because of a misunderstanding of the law caused by statements made by elected officials in your area,” the letter said. “As a federal firearms licensee, you are aware that there are significant consequences for failing to comply with state and federal law...
“You are certainly entitled to agree or disagree with the policy decision made by the voters in enacting Initiative 1639, but that does not change the obligation to comply with the law.”
Ferguson and Inslee both commented on the letter, as well.
“Local officials’ personal opposition to I-1639 may have created confusion regarding firearms dealers’ legal responsibilities,” Ferguson said. “We wrote this letter to ensure these dealers have accurate information about the initiative to avoid legal jeopardy because of statements made by local elected officials.”
“Despite what some of these sheriffs would have people believe, no one has the ability to pick and choose which laws to follow,” Inslee said. “Our state’s voters overwhelmingly approved stronger background checks and gun safety measures, and dealers will be required to comply with those laws.”
Today's letter comes as a movement to unseat Ferguson continues to grow across Eastern Washington.
Residents in Stevens, Spokane, Franklin, Benton, Yakima, Ferry and Kittitas counties have filed or are in the process of filing affidavits of adverse witness against Ferguson, alleging he has violated his oath of office and should be criminally charged.
About 200 affidavits were previously filed in Yakima County; an additional 98 were collected Saturday in Spokane.
The affidavit gives residents an opportunity to explain why they think criminal charges should be brought against Ferguson and continues:
“I elect to use this method to start criminal proceedings. I understand that the following are some but not all of the consequences of my signing a criminal complaint: (1) the defendant may be arrested and placed in custody; (2) the arrest if proved false may result in a lawsuit against me; (3) if I have sworn falsely I may be prosecuted for perjury; (4) this charge will be prosecuted even though I might later change my mind; (5) witnesses and complainant will be required to appear in court on the trial date regardless of inconvenience, school, job, etc.”