Cops are not lawyers. They don't get to decide if a law is constitutional or correctly written. But for some reason the Seattle Times has decided their chief legal team is a police chief and gun dealer in the Tri-Cities.
In a column published yesterday, the Times’s Danny Westneat takes the side of a rural gun dealer and police chief who have decided a new state law increasing the minimum age for purchasing assault rifles from 18 to 21 doesn't apply to them because of a technicality in how the law defined the assault rifle. This gun dealer, and possibly others, are pledging to break the law and keep selling these dangerous guns to teens, and Westneat appears to be agreeing with them. Here's what he wrote:
“That said, it seems pretty clear the rebel sheriffs have a point that this law wasn’t quite ready for prime time. We just barred sales of assault weapons to teens, but the law doesn’t define what an assault weapon actually is until six months later? Yes, that’s a technicality. But there’s the spirit of laws and the letter of them. Both matter.”
Yes, Danny, technicalities matter. But it also matters who is interpreting the technicality. So far, the lawyers who are looking at this law, including the state’s attorney general and even the National Rifle Association (NRA) lawyers who are trying to repeal it, disagree with both Westneat and these gun lovers in Eastern Washington.
Brionna Aho, a spokesperson for Attorney General Bob Ferguson, told me in no uncertain terms this morning that the new age minimum for semi-automatic assault rifles is currently in effect.
“Initiative 1639 raises the legal age of purchase for semiautomatic assault rifles to 21, just like handguns. That provision is in effect now,” Aho said in an e-mail.
The NRA’s lawyers agree with Aho. They filed a lawsuit on Feb. 8 challenging the constitutionality of I-1639 and asking a judge to throw the law out. But one thing they don’t argue is when the law’s effective date is. They clearly state in the lawsuit that the section of the law increasing the age minimums went into effect in January.
The people that helped write Initiative 1639 also agree that it is already illegal to sell one of these guns to people under 21. Tallman Trask, a spokesperson for the Alliance For Gun Responsibility, which backed Initiative 1639, said it is clear that the age minimums are currently in effect.
“Our understanding and the understanding of the gun lobby is it is illegal in Washington state right now to sell these weapons [to people under 21],” Trask said. “It’s a dangerous myth to perpetuate that you can sell these weapons to people who are 18 to 20.”
So let’s add this up. It’s Danny Westneat and some gun lovers in Tri-Cities versus the attorney general, the very well-funded NRA lawyers, and the gun reform advocates. I think the good money in this legal argument is on the side with people who actually get paid to interpret the law.
Westneat’s column comes as more than a dozen county sheriffs pledge not to enforce the entirety of the new gun control laws. These rural cops are subverting state law and the will of nearly 60 percent of Washington’s voters that agreed we should pass these common-sense gun control laws. Westneat thankfully questions the intentions of these reckless sheriffs, saying they are “way out of their lane on whether the new law is constitutional,” but for some reason he doesn’t bring his critical eye to this legal technicality over age minimums.
Technicalities can certainly doom laws in court and who knows, maybe these gun lovers have a point, but they don't appear to be confident enough to bring this argument into a court of law. And Westneat doesn’t seem to have reached out to the state’s legal authorities, nor does his column quote any legal experts. He instead agrees with these gun lovers and then chides the gun reform lobby for needing to be “more bulletproof than this.”
Well Danny, you may need a more bulletproof legal team if you’re relying on a cop and gun dealer in West Richland for your advice.