OLYMPIA — Almost all of the state’s county sheriffs have signed a statement reaffirming their oaths to the U.S. and state constitutions, in particular the right to bear arms.
The statement was signed by 37 of the state’s 39 county sheriffs during a June 15 Washington State Sheriff’s Association meeting and released to the public Monday. Only King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht did not sign. Kitsap County doesn’t have an elected sheriff following the recent retirement of Sheriff Gary Simpson.
The sheriffs pledged “to do everything within our power to steadfastly protect the Second Amendment and all other individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution,” the statement said.
Douglas County Sheriff Kevin Morris noted that in the past year and a half residents have voiced to him concerns of government overreach, asking if his office will force COVID-19 vaccines or take away guns.
“So that was, in my position, my way of saying I’m not changing business, I know what I chose to do this job for,” Morris said Tuesday. “I took an oath. I will continue to do that regardless of the feelings you may be getting as a concerned citizen of governmental overstep whatnot — I am not changing the direction in Douglas County, in my office, as it pertains to that.”
Similarly, Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett the statement was in part a response to constituents who’ve expressed concern that Second Amendment rights could be infringed upon.
Lawmakers have introduced notable new gun laws this year.
State legislators this year passed a law banning the open carry of firearms at public demonstrations, like protests, along with several police reforms bills. The Biden administration announced its plan to reduce gun violence last month, which included a zero-tolerance policy for gun dealers that willfully break laws.
“People see … potential overreach in the name of safety and safeguards,” Burnett said in an interview Monday evening, pointing to state and federal level government.
The statement writes that the “Second Amendment of our divinely inspired Constitution clearly states … ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed’” — something the sheriffs described as “indispensable to the existence of a free people.”
Burnett said the sheriffs’ statement is meant to ease minds.
“It’s just reassuring people like, ‘Hey, I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t promise you that somebody’s not going to come and try to take away your constitutional rights,’” Burnett said. “But what we’re saying is if we’re in leadership roles if that was to happen, and when that happened, we would stand up and say, ‘We will do everything within, you know, our lawful ability to do so.’”
Morris offered caution to those reading the statement.
“I would encourage people not to over read into it or to think that there’s some hidden agenda or underlying scheme,” Morris said. “It is simply a reaffirmation of the oath that we took when we were elected by the people we serve.”