Columbia County Sheriff joins I-1639 opposition

Roger Harnack

The number of sheriffs refusing to enforce new gun control measures under Initiative 1639 continues to increase.
On Monday, Columbia County Sheriff Joe Helm directed his deputies not to enforce the measure that redefines all semi-automatic rifles as “assault rifles,” raises the minimum age to purchase to 21 and makes owners criminally liable if their firearm is involved in an incident.
“As written, I feel that Initiative 1639 is unconstitutionally vague and includes enforcement provisions that are not allowed to our officer,” Helm said in a written press release. “Therefore, it is unenforceable.”
Helm brings the number of sheriffs refusing to enforce the measure to 22 of the state's 39 elected sheriffs.
The measure also mandates more stringent background checks, requires firearms dealers to sell gun safes and trigger locks, and prevents dealers from selling semi-automatic rifles to out-of-state residents.
Only three sheriffs have said publicly that they will enforce the measure backed predominately by urban residents in the Seattle-Tacoma-Everett metropolitan area.
The only Eastern Washington sheriff to publicly say he will enforce the measure is Walla Walla County Sheriff Mark Crider.
Crider represents a county where voters opposed the measure with 59.35 percent rejecting I-1639.
In adjacent Columbia County — Helm's county — 69.42 percent of voters rejected the measure.
East of the Cascades, voters in 18 of 20 counties overwhelmingly opposed the measure, some by margins exceeding 75 percent.
“I take this position as your last line of defense against unconstitutional laws very serious,” Helm said. “... I am instructing my deputies not to enforce 1639 while the constitutional validity remains in argument at the court level.”
Should the law be declared constitutional, Helm said he will work with the Columbia County prosecuting attorney to determine the “best course of action.”
The measure has been challenged by the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation in U.S. District Court.
The legal challenge over the measure's constitutionality doesn't worry Alliance for Gun Responsibility CEO Renee Hopkins.
“We have always been confident that Initiative 1639 would withstand this challenge," Hopkins said. "While this is not exactly the path we expected, the outcome is the same: Initiative 1639 remains the law of the land in Washington,”
Hopkins also downplayed the significance of sheriffs refusing to enforce the measure.
“A number of law enforcement officials have come forward recently claiming they will not enforce the initiative while this challenge makes its way through the courts," she said. "Now that there is no longer a pending lawsuit, we expect these sheriffs will stop playing politics with the safety of their communities and resume doing their job by enforcing the laws of our state and respecting the will of Washingtonians.”