Law enforcement officials in Lewis County, WA are refusing to enforce parts of the state’s new background check law, which stems from ballot initiative I-594 that passed in November.
The strict new law forces anyone conducting a private transfer of a firearm to undergo a background check. This includes gun shows, online purchases and gifts.
But Lewis County officials are saying they will only prosecute those who break the law intentionally.
“We wanted to make sure that the citizens of Lewis County knew that we weren’t looking to make criminals out of ordinary citizens,” explained prosecutor Jonathan Meyer. “We’re not going to try to trap citizens into transferring a gun to a friend and then try to nab them on a violation of 594. That’s not what we’re interested in.”
Meyer and Sherriff Rob Sanza are the first elected leaders in Washington State to publicly state that they will not enforce the new law. But they are far from the only officials in the country who have taken public stands against gun control laws.
According to the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), there are at least 484 sheriffs around the nation who oppose federal gun control in one form or another.
In Colorado, all but seven of the state’s sixty-two sheriffs formed a coalition and sued the state government after the state legislature passed an extremist gun law in 2013. (The suit was thrown out.)
In New York State, several sheriffs have publicly criticized the SAFE Act, the state’s hardline gun control bill. Sheriff Tony Desmond of Scoharie County, New York, has even said explicitly that he intends to ignore the law.
“If you have a weapon, which under the SAFE Act is considered illegal, I don’t look at it as being illegal just because someone said it was,” he said.
Other sheriffs in the state are complying with the law, but only with great reluctance.
“I feel as an elected official and a chief law enforcement officer of the county it would be irresponsible for me to say, ‘I’m not going to enforce a law I personally disagree with,’” said Sheriff Richard Devlin of Otsego County.
“[But] I won’t do anything as far as confiscating weapons. We’re not checking out registrations. People that are lawfully using a firearm for target shooting, we’re not bothering those people.”