Friday, February 22, 2019

Some rural sheriffs in Washington state refuse to enforce new gun laws passed mostly by urban voters

About a dozen mostly rural sheriffs in Washington state say they won't enforce a new set of firearms laws that voters approved in a referendum last fall. The new laws raise the minimum age to buy a gun to 21, beef up background checks, and impose penalties on those who fail to store guns safely if one of the guns is used in a crime. Some of the sheriffs "say they will apply certain measures — for instance, the background checks — but will ignore others. One sheriff said he is not going to arrest a 20-year-old farmer who happens to have a semi-automatic rifle with him on his tractor," Martin Kaste reports for NPR.

Robert Wadman, criminal justice professor emeritus at Weber State University in Utah and a former police chief, told Kaste that law-enforcement officers must often use professional discretion, and may sometimes choose not to enforce a law for a good reason, but said he doesn't think publicly refusing to enforce a law, for likely political reasons, is defensible. "For me, questions of this nature should be answered by the courts — not the court of public opinion."

Former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack thinks the Washington sheriffs are within their rights. In the 1990s Mack successfully challenged a federal law that required state officers to do background checks on gun purchases, and now runs an organization called the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association that encourages sheriffs to take a more active role in deciding which laws to enforce. "Sheriffs standing for freedom have the responsibility to interpose — it's the 'doctrine of interposition' — whenever anybody is trying to diminish or violate the individual rights of our counties," Mack told Kaste. It is unclear whether any of the Washington sheriffs are members of the organization.

Mirya Holman, an associate political science professor at Tulane University, said the "constitutional sheriff" notion is a product of political polarization between rural and urban areas, and noted that the Washington gun law was passed mostly because of liberal voters in Seattle. "Sheriffs are seeing laws being made potentially by voters in urban areas and feeling like they need to protect their population from these people who have very different attitudes about the way the world should be," Holman told Kaste.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

It's absolutely nuts that sheriffs of all people would publicly refuse to enforce laws. I can understand them using personal discretion in that enforcement based on their knowledge of their community. But to publicly state that they will not enforce such gun laws is much more about politics, and again shows how the current holder of the White House has degraded our unity as a nation.