Sheriffs who refuse to enforce gun law could be liable, AG says

Dordon Brack, aims a semi-automatic AR-15 that is for sale at Good Guys Guns & Range on February 15, 2018 in Orem, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

SEATTLE — The state attorney general says county sheriffs who refuse to enforce Washington’s new gun laws could be held liable if they refuse to perform expanded background checks and someone who shouldn’t buy a gun is able to buy one and uses it in a crime.

Bob Ferguson wrote an open letter to law enforcement on Tuesday saying he was confident the voter-approved law was constitutional.

“I will defend Initiative 1639 against any legal challenge,” Ferguson said in the open letter.

The letter continued:

State law provides immunity to local law enforcement officers who run these checks “in good faith.” However, in the event a police chief or sheriff refuses to perform the background check required by Initiative 1639, they could be held liable if there is a sale or transfer of a firearm to a dangerous individual prohibited from possessing a firearm and that individual uses that firearm to do harm.

The Seattle Times reported that at least 13 county sheriffs have said they won’t enforce the law, Initiative 1639, which voters passed by a wide margin in November.

The new law has already raised the minimum age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21.

Starting on July 1, the law also requires expanded background checks for those rifles and can hold gun owners responsible if their gun was stored carelessly and is used in a crime.  It also broadly redefines many guns as “semi-automatic assault” rifles while strengthening the background check required to purchase a firearm.

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