The vast majority of county sheriffs in Washington have signed a new letter promising to uphold your constitutional rights. But it is up to the sheriffs to decide what is constitutional and what’s not.
It’s an anxious time for those who are worried about retaining their gun rights. An anxious time for those unhappy that COVID-19 safety rules may restrict individual freedoms.
Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett led the effort that got 37 of Washington’s 39 sheriffs to sign a letter pledging to abide by their oath of office.
“The message we want to send is one, is we want to minimize their fear, and we want to put them at ease,” he said.
In the letter, the sheriffs “publicly reassert our individual and collective duty to defend all of the constitutional rights of our citizens.”
But during the pandemic, some sheriffs have refused to enforce COVID-19 safety mandates.
And in the past few years, some sheriffs have publicly announced they won’t enforce newly passed gun safety laws.
The sheriffs’ letter explicitly calls out gun right, stating, “We individually and collectively pledge to do everything within our power to steadfastly protect the Second Amendment and all other individual rights.”
Burnett said constitutionality should be decided by the courts, but “there could be a time down the road where the sheriffs may have to decide as the chief law enforcement executives of their counties — that they would say this is what we are or we aren’t going to enforce.”
We spoke with constitutional lawyer Jeffery Needle about the letter. “It’s dangerous because it shows an extreme bias by the sheriffs of Washington state in favor of Second Amendment rights.”
Needle said the letter implies that sheriffs have power that the law does not give them.
“They don’t have some sort of unilateral power to determine which legislation is constitutional, which is not. And enforce only those that they believe are constitutional,” he added.
Burnett said there was no one piece of legislation that prompted the letter. This year, the Legislature passed a new law banning the open carry of weapons at permitted demonstrations. Only the sheriffs of King and Kitsap counties did not sign the letter. Both are in transitional roles. The King County sheriff will become an appointed position at the end of the year.
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