OLYMPIA — Firearms dealers in Washington are being warned about the consequences of ignoring state law under Initiative 1639.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Gov. Jay Inslee have sent a letter to 262 firearms dealers in counties where sheriffs have indicated they will not enforce I-1639. The two warned that, regardless of local officials’ opposition to Initiative 1639, firearms dealers are still required to follow state law.
As a condition of their federal licenses, firearms dealers are required to comply with state and federal law. Unless a court rules otherwise, laws and initiatives are presumed to be constitutional, Ferguson and Inslee said.
No court has struck down any provision of I-1639, although a challenge has been filed in federal court.
“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. “It’s very simple: Our state’s voters overwhelmingly approved stronger background checks and gun safety measures, and dealers will be required to comply with those laws.”
The letter informs dealers about their license requirements, and the possibility of license revocation or state or federal criminal charges if they break the law.
One provision of I-1639 impacting firearms dealers is already in effect: Semiautomatic assault rifles cannot be sold to people under age 21.
The remaining provisions go into effect July 1.
They include enhanced background checks on all sales of semiautomatic assault rifles. The checks are the same as those that have been performed on pistol sales for many years.
The law has a variety of implications for firearms dealers, including mandatory waiting periods on all semiautomatic assault rifle purchases, safety notices and offering to sell or give trigger locks or similar devices on all firearm purchases.
Ferguson earlier released answers to frequently asked questions about the initiative and sent letters to sheriffs in all 39 counties.
In his letter to sheriffs, Ferguson wrote, “Recent public statements from your colleagues regarding the refusal to enforce Initiative 1639, approved by nearly 60 percent of Washington voters last November, suggest widespread misunderstanding regarding the requirements and status of the new law.”
He told the sheriffs:
-Individuals ages 18-21 who own or possess a semiautomatic rifle prior to July 1 do not face criminal liability for owning those weapons. The initiative says those individuals may carry those weapons only at their businesses, homes or property; while engaging in lawful outdoor recreation activities, such as hunting, or while target shooting at an authorized range.
-Firearms are not required to be stored in any particular place or any particular way.
-Law enforcement is not required to enter homes to investigate whether firearms are safely and securely stored. There are strict constitutional limits on when law enforcement can enter a home.
-If a gun owner has his or her weapon stolen, the initiative does not create criminal liability, provided the theft is reported to law enforcement, regardless of how the weapon is stored.
-No court has found that Initiative 1639 violates the Second Amendment.
Starting in July, the initiative does require local law enforcement to perform enhanced background checks on sales and transfers of semiautomatic rifles.