Yakima County sheriff won’t enforce new gun law

“I don’t like it,” Bob Udell said. “It’s not aimed at who’s committing crimes.”

Yakima County Sheriff Robert Udell. (Yakima County)

Yakima County Sheriff Robert Udell. (Yakima County)

By Phil Ferolito / Yakima Herald-Republic

Yakima County Sheriff Bob Udell has joined the ranks of law enforcement officers who say they will not enforce the new Washington gun control initiative that places stiff requirements on the sale and purchase of semiautomatic rifles.

“I just do not believe that it falls within the Constitution — not the state or federal constitutions,” Udell said Wednesday. “I don’t like it. It’s not aimed at who’s committing crimes.”

Voters in November approved Initiative 1639, which raises the age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21, requires buyers to complete a firearms safety course and calls for enhanced background checks. The initiative also holds gun owners accountable if their firearms are used in crimes by others.

Udell echoes the opposition that’s reverberating across the state.

Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer says he’s not enforcing the initiative. Sheriffs in Lewis and Ferry counties also said they will not enforce the initiative as did Republic police Chief Loren Culp, who asked the City Council to declare the city a “Second Amendment sanctuary.” The council will vote on that request in March.

Intensifying the opposition is a joint lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation challenging the constitutionality of I-1639.

Udell, elected in November, said sheriffs across the state are hoping the case is concluded before the initiative takes effect in July.

“The courts will filter this initiative out, and I’m looking forward to how that comes out,” he said.

Criminals are more likely to use handguns while rifles are used in only about 2 percent of homicides nationwide, Udell said.

“And that’s all rifles, not just semiautomatic,” he said. “They’re just not used, so for law enforcement it’s not a burning issue.”

Like Songer, Udell takes issue with the age requirement of 21.

“We ask these kids 18 years old to go over and protect our freedom and they come back we say you can’t have a semiautomatic .22 rifle — that’s wrong,” he said. “I understand the intent, but its got to be a different tack.”

Udell also says the enhanced background checks that probe a buyer’s mental heath history is unnecessary and will double the workload in his records department.

“I may have to add a records person to comply,” he said. “I don’t have that in the budget. That’s something the commissioners are going to have to help me with.”

The Yakima County commissioners control the county’s operating budget.

Bottom line, he says, is criminals aren’t going to abide by any gun laws.

Statewide approval of the measure largely came from voters on the west side of the state, where the environment and culture are different, Udell and Songer said.

Songer points to how voters in Klickitat County rejected the initiative by 60 percent while the measure was approved statewide by about that same percentage.

In Yakima County, 56 percent of voters rejected the initiative.

“So really it’s the west side telling the east side ‘tough.’ We don’t have much say when it comes to votes,” Songer said.

Not all law enforcement agencies are voicing an opinion on the initiative, but many are keeping an eye on the lawsuit, said Steve Strachan, executive director of Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

“I think everyone is trying to respond accordingly,” he said. “Everyone’s trying to figure out what to do in the interim while the court case is making it through.”

Udell said his office will have to provide the enhanced backgrounds if the initiative isn’t struck down, but won’t spend the manpower on enforcing the other provisions of the initiative.

Sheriffs and police chiefs have discretion in what laws to enforce, he said.

“So we’re not out of bounds by saying there’s a law we’re not enforcing,” he said.

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