SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich reaffirmed his belief that Initiative 1639 is an unconstitutional law that he cannot enforce during a press conference on Friday morning.
“I-1639 is an unconstitutional law. I do not believe it will stand any constitutional testing at the state or the federal level,” he said to media in attendance. “People need to understand that even though the citizens have passed this initiative, they didn’t change the constitution of the state of Washington or the constitution of the United States.
I-1639 requires enhanced background checks and established a requirement forcing gun buyers to complete a firearm safety course. It also raises the minimum age requirement for buying a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21. The initiative was passed during the November election.
In a recent thread on the Spokane County Sheriff's Office Facebook page, Knezovich said other sheriffs throughout Washington state are “grandstanding” by saying they will not enforce the initiative because “there is nothing for us to enforce.”
“[Initiative] 1639 doesn’t give a sheriff anything to do and that’s where I have problems with my peers stepping up and saying, ‘I’m not going to enforce I-1639,’” he said during the press conference.
“There’s a group running around putting pressure on the sheriffs to do so [speak out]. I refuse to cave into such bully tactics. I respect my officers a little bit more than that. I respect my citizens a little bit more than that,” he added.
This comes as Stevens County Sheriff Brad Manke joined many other sheriffs throughout the state to announce he would not enforce I-1639.
A Facebook post from Manke reads:
"As you are well aware Initiative 1639 was voted into law by the voters in the State of Washington in the last election. This law is highly debated and is being contested on mulitple fronts.
It will be the position of the Stevens County Sheriff's Office that we will not take enforcement action (make custodial arrests or issue citations) on alleged violations of this law unless imminent danger exists to the public.
I join the 73% of Stevens County voters who voted against this initiative."
Knezovich also said lawmakers failed to define "safe storage" within the initiative.
“I-1639 does not tell you how to store a weapon or how to secure a weapon,” he said. “How do you charge somebody when you haven’t even told them what the actual constructs of that law is going to be?”
The 4th Amendment, which protects people against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” prevents him from enforcing the law, Knezovich said.
Some people have argued that I-1639 is aimed at making schools safer but Knezovich disagrees. He later added that it prevents law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves.
“Here’s the harsh reality for everyone on I-1639: It’s not about school safety. It didn’t make your schools any safer,” he said.
Knezovich said he believes I-1639 only created a definition for assault rifles.
“There is no such thing as an assault weapon. There’s no such thing as an assault rifle. AR stands for the company that made the weapon,” he said. “What they did is created the definition of an assault rifle, which includes every semi-automatic rifle there is."
“Step two will be to ban all assault weapons. When they do that, they will ban every semi-automatic rifle there is,” he said.
Knezovich said Democrats have called and emailed him saying he needs to stand against I-1639. He added that he would join a lawsuit against the initiative if given an avenue, but lawyers have told him there is nothing for him as a sheriff to enforce within the law.
Knezovich then delved further into his thoughts on enforcing laws.
“It seems like we as a nation are heading down a very slippery slope. Enforce your laws or change them. If you start picking and choosing laws, that could be very bad for this nation. That’s how tyrants are created," he said.
This led to comments from Kneozvich regarding the Mexican border and immigration.
“Congress has done a disservice to this country. That border needs to be secured,” he said. “Undocumented does not exist. It is illegal. Start living up to the laws you enforce. I challenge Speaker Pelosi today – if you don’t like the law, change it.”
He also warned voters to be “more careful what they vote for” in the future.
“This is almost like waking up from a hangover going, ‘What did we do?’” he said.
Knezovich ended the press conference by calling I-1639 “gun ban politics” and gave those in attendance a warning: Beware of any law that’s 35 pages.
View the full press conference below.