Since Yakima County Sheriff Bob Udell said in January that he won’t enforce parts of a voter-approved gun control law, he’s heard from people on both sides of the issue.
Some of them say his stance against enforcing a provision requiring people to securely store firearms is putting the community in danger.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Udell said. “I need laws that can make a difference in fighting crime.”
But Udell, who took office in January, said he’s also heard from people who support him in standing up against a law he perceives as unconstitutional.
While he hasn’t had a situation where his deputies had to deal with someone violating the storage provisions or age requirements, Udell said he will still use his discretion to not enforce the law in those situations.
In November, voters approved Initiative 1639, which made several changes to Washington’s gun regulations. The changes include barring people from under 21 from buying semi-automatic rifles, requiring enhanced background checks and training to purchase a semi-automatic rifle.
The law, which took effect July 1, also allows gun owners to be held criminally liable if they fail to secure their firearms and someone who is not allowed to have a firearm gets it.
Proponents of the law say it is one way to address gun violence, and Washington’s attorney general is defending the law in federal court.
Udell, along with sheriffs in Klickitat, Lewis and Ferry counties, takes issue with the law, particularly the age restrictions and the storage requirements.
“A 19-year-old is out shooting squirrels with a 10-22 (rifle) on his neighbor’s property. He’s not a criminal,” Udell said.
Likewise, he said if someone has a gun stored in their locked house, he considers that secured.
His biggest problem with the law is that sheriffs and police chiefs were not consulted, which he said resulted in its flaws.
“If the state wants to have effective laws to reduce violence, ask law enforcement,” Udell said.
While he’s been criticized for refusing to enforce elements of the law, Udell said he’s also received support. At the Central Washington Sportsmen Show, held in February at the SunDome, hundreds of people signed a petition sponsored by the National Rifle Association in support of Udell and Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic, who also said he would not enforce the law.
Udell is complying with the law’s requirement for background checks, although he said it may tax his office’s resources later this year, when people start buying guns for Christmas and hunting season.
At The Range in Yakima, the company is providing the state-mandated training for people purchasing semi-automatic rifles. Dave Kellett, The Range’s lead trainer, said the law requires anyone buying a semi-automatic rifle or receiving one in a transfer to go through the training every five years. Even he had to do it.
“I teach the class. I have the training,” Kellett said.
At The Range, people who pay the $45 for the class also get $46 in passes for the indoor firing range, a move Kellett said makes the class requirement less burdensome. But Kellett worries the law will push people into illegal gun purchases and transfers if they don’t want to go through the hassles of background checks, training classes and 10-day waiting periods.
“The law then has the opposite effect of what happens,” Kellett said.
Udell said a better way to improve safety would be to have programs that address gang and drug issues, as well as prevent youths from joining gangs.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson sent an open letter to sheriffs in February warning that if they refuse to conduct background checks required by the new law, and if someone purchases a gun who shouldn’t be able to obtain it and uses the gun in a crime, sheriffs could be held liable in civil lawsuits.