Lewis County commissioners turned sympathetic ears toward citizens who gathered Monday to urge them to disregard the gun regulations passed by Washington voters last fall — but it’s unclear if the commissioners plan to take action on the group’s proposed ordinance to declare a “sanctuary county.”
“It disturbs me that there seems to be a continuing movement toward taking these basic civil rights away from us,” said county commissioner Bobby Jackson. “While we don’t agree with the law, as county commissioners we are bound to uphold the law.”
Initiative 1639, which voters approved in November, adds more extensive background checks for semi-automatic rifle purchases, raises the age limit for such purchases to 21 and mandates storage requirements for firearm owners. It passed with a healthy majority statewide, but 70 percent of Lewis County voters checked their box in opposition.
Monday’s meeting was called after several advocates spoke up at last week’s county commission meeting, pressing county leaders to pass the ordinance they’d drafted — one which would serve as notice that Lewis County has no intention of enforcing the gun laws now recognized by Washington state.
In response, commissioners scheduled a separate meeting for the advocates to make their case, and at least a dozen were in attendance Monday afternoon.
“My request is that Lewis County commissioners declare Lewis County a sanctuary county that would protect each and every resident to exercise their legal rights,” said Bill Jones.
The meeting opened with Sheriff Rob Snaza restating his position on the measure. He has said his department will not “actively seek out violations,” and will refer incidents as they come up in the course of an investigation to the prosecutor’s office. Snaza said his view is the the court cases currently challenging the measure as a Second Amendment infringement will win out, but until then he is in a difficult position as an official sworn to uphold both federal and state law.
“We have the state constitution and the U.S. Constitution, and as a sheriff we’re sworn to both, and that’s challenging,” he said. “At the end of the day, the Second Amendment is huge. … This decision that I made did not come lightly. It came with a lot of forethought, a lot of research and a lot of praying.”
The gun activists who attended Monday thanked Snaza for his stance, but said it was also important for county commissioners to take an official position that the regulations will not be enforced in Lewis County.
“I will not live under tyranny,” said Mark Jensen. “I see it as extremely concerning what’s happening in this state. … We’re looking for a bold step from this commission to say, ‘No further can you go down this road of tyranny.’”
Civil deputy prosecutor Eric Eisenberg also joined commissioners at the meeting, and he informed the group that, legally, the initiative is in good standing until a court finds it to be in conflict with the Constitution.
“The most direct and most appropriate way to challenge the constitutionality of a law is to file suit,” he said. “Before any court has ruled on it, you’re supposed to presume that the branch of government that enacted the law was right to do so. … When the people pass an initiative under Washington law, they are treated as though they were the state Legislature. It’s presumed to be constitutional until it’s proven to be unconstitutional.”
County commissioner Gary Stamper said he grew up with firearms and is concerned that “our rights are being taken away.” He did not indicate whether that concern would translate to support for the sanctuary county ordinance.
“We’re going get advice from our counsel to see where this goes,” he said. “We need to take it very cautious.”
Following the meeting, Jackson — the commission chair — said the group had not yet decided whether to act on the proposed ordinance.
“We’re going to have further discussions,” he said. “At this point, this was a very important meeting for us to have so that we could share our thoughts with the community. We’re going to continue to work with our prosecuting attorney’s office and have further discussion, so no decision made today.”