This editorial was published by the Columbian of Vancouver, Wash.


Washington’s gun control initiative, I-1639, notched a resounding victory last week when Judge Ronald Leighton of the U.S. District Court of Washington found it to be constitutionally sound.

Gun-rights advocates who challenged the initiative, approved by nearly 60 percent of the state’s voters in 2018 (it received 54 percent approval in Clark County), vowed they will continue their fight. But we hope Leighton’s firm, well-reasoned decision will convince sheriffs throughout Washington who refused to enforce I-1639 to fulfill their oaths of office and uphold the law.

We must point out that Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins was not among the group of obstinate officials; on the contrary, the plaintiffs in the suit challenging I-1639 named Atkins as one of the defendants because he’s one of those who could revoke gun dealers’ federal firearms licenses if they sold semiautomatic rifles to out-of-state buyers.

I-1639’s mandates include not only the ban on selling semiautomatic rifles to out-of-state residents, but bar selling such weapons to 18- to 20-year-olds. It instituted enhanced background checks and stricter storage requirements.

The age restriction was one of the points the plaintiffs hotly challenged. But in his decision, Leighton pointed out that current federal law prohibits handgun sales to those younger than 21.

Further, according to the Seattle Times, “Because, for much of the nation’s history, people between the age of 18 and 20 were considered minors, several courts have ruled that age restrictions fall outside the Second Amendment’s protections, he wrote.”

“These authorities demonstrate that reasonable age restrictions on the sale, possession, or use of firearms have an established history in this country,” Leighton wrote.

“The judge doesn’t think that 18- to 20-year-olds have rights,” Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, told The Seattle Times.

That’s nonsense, of course. While Americans can vote and serve in the military starting at age 18, they can’t buy alcohol or marijuana, and effective this year in Washington, tobacco or vaping products. And in this state, those 18 to 20 can buy other types of long guns, so I-1639 doesn’t strike us as an egregious overstep.

One of the arguments of the sheriffs who said they wouldn’t enforce I-1639 was that it hadn’t been tested in federal court. For instance, in February 2019, Grant County Sheriff Tom Jones said in a statement, “I am instructing my deputies not to enforce Initiative 1639 in Grant County while the constitutional validity remains in argument at the federal courts level.”

Well, now I-1639 has been tested in federal court, and it’s been found to pass muster.

So we echo state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who said in a recent statement that he was “confident that Washington law enforcement officials will carefully review this ruling from a Bush-appointed federal judge upholding the constitutionality of I-1639.”

Ferguson added, “It should not take another letter from me to convince them to do their jobs.”

Sheriffs’ oath of office declares they will uphold the law, period, not just the laws they agree with. They must demonstrate leadership and enforce I-1639.

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