Washougal city attorney: Councilors, police must obey state’s new gun-safety laws or violate oaths of office
By Kelly Moyer | March 14, 2019 5:30 am |
Washougal’s city attorney has shot holes in a request for the city council to form a “Second Amendment sanctuary city” and refuse to enforce the gun-safety measures passed by Washington state and Clark County voters in November 2018 through Initiative 1639 (I-1639).
In a memo sent to Washougal City Manager David Scott and Washougal City Council members, Ken Woodrich, the city’s attorney, says going ahead with the “sanctuary city” request from citizens who rallied at a Washougal gun shop with members of the right-wing Patriot Prayer and “Three Percenters” groups the day before approaching the city council on Feb. 25 would put the city leaders’ positions within Washougal’s government at risk.
“Failing to enforce the statute would violate the oath of office sworn to by law enforcement officers, elected officials and the city manager,” Woodrich states in his memo to Scott and council members. “Unless and until the opponents obtain a judicial stay or reversal of I-1639 prior to its full effective date on July 1, our city officials and police must enforce its provisions or violate their oaths of office, thus risking their positions.”
Woodrich quotes case law in his memo and states that elected officials and law enforcement officers in Washougal have sworn to enforce state and federal constitutions and laws.
“While opponents of I-1639 argue the law is unconstitutional and unenforceable, the statute is presumptively constitutional unless and until proven otherwise ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,'” Woodrich states in the memo.
The idea of forming a “Second Amendment sanctuary city” and refusing to enforce the gun-safety measures contained in I-1639 — a Washington state law that, on Jan. 1, raised the legal age to buy a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21 and will, as of July 1, hold gun owners responsible for safely storing their weapons and keeping them away from anyone not eligible to possess a firearm and require semi-automatic rifle buyers to pass an annual background check, complete an approved training course and wait 10 days before obtaining their weapons — came about in late February, after more than 50 opponents of I-1639 showed up to a Washougal City Council meeting.
Camera crews from “VICE News Tonight,” a news show that airs on HBO, filmed the Feb. 25 council meeting and Joey Gibson, head of Patriot Prayer, a group known for attracting far-right extremists, including white supremacists and neo-Nazis, to its often violent rallies showed up to advocate for the “sanctuary city” idea.
Gibson has said he and his supporters are attending city council meetings throughout Clark County to put pressure on Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins to not enforce I-1639.
Atkins and Washougal Police Chief Ron Mitchell have both said they intended to enforce the new Washington state gun-safety laws.
In January, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office said it will “adhere to the law as passed by a vote of the people, unless a court rules that it is unconstitutional.”
Mitchell told The Post-Record in February his officers would do the same.
“We will take the same stance as the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and we will adhere to that,” Mitchell said, “unless, at some point in the future (I-1639) is deemed to be unconstitutional.”
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson wrote an open letter in early February chastising the more than a dozen police chiefs and sheriffs in the state who have publicly stated they don’t intend to enforce the new laws.
“Local law enforcement officials are entitled to their opinions about the constitutionality of any law, but those personal views do not absolve us of our duty to enforce Washington laws and protect the public,” Ferguson stated in his letter.
He also warned the law enforcement leaders could be held liable if they do not obey the law.
“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,” Ferguson stated.
Gibson and his Patriot Prayer supporters believe the initiative is unconstitutional and are encouraging people throughout Washington’s more conservative areas to take a stand against I-1639.
“Our main message is that Seattle voted to pass it … but we need people to stand up and protect the constitution. The 51 percent cannot enslave the 49 percent,” Gibson told The Post-Record in mid-February.
Told that more than 60 percent of Camas voters had approved the ballot measure in the November 2018 election, Gibson said he knew Washougal — where about 51 percent of voters rejected the measure — would “obviously be a lot more friendly” to Patriot Prayer’s message, but that he “still wants Camas people to hear what we’re going to say.”
Camas City Administrator Pete Capell said the group is expected to attend the next Camas City Council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m., Monday, March 18.