OLYMPIA — A federal judge Monday upheld a sweeping set of firearms regulations approved by Washington voters in 2018, ruling against a legal challenge brought by gun-right advocates.
Initiative 1639, among other things, raised the legal purchase age of a semiautomatic rifle to 21 and put in place enhanced background checks for their purchase. It also barred the sale of such rifles to out-of-state residents.
While voters passed the measure with nearly 60% support, gun-rights advocates have fiercely opposed it. At the same time, some sheriffs in Washington counties have said they wouldn’t enforce the law because they believed it was unconstitutional.
But U.S. District Court of Western Washington Judge Ronald Leighton cited current federal law banning the sale of handguns to people under 21, as well as state laws going back to the 19th century that have imposed age restrictions on purchases.
Because, for much of the nation’s history, people between the ages of 18 and 20 were considered minors, several courts have ruled that age restrictions fall outside the Second Amendment’s protections, he wrote.
“These authorities demonstrate that reasonable age restrictions on the sale, possession, or use of firearms have an established history in this country,” Leighton wrote in the order. “The extension of Washington’s age restrictions” for semiautomatic rifles “is ultimately a distinction without a difference.”
The lawsuit by several plaintiffs, including two Washington firearms dealers, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, argued that I-1639 violates the Second Amendment, for barring 18-to-20 year olds from buying semiautomatic rifles.
They filed the lawsuit against Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl, Clark Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins and Teresa Berntsen, director of the state Department of Licensing.
Those are three public officials who could revoke the plaintiff gun dealers’ federal firearms licenses were they to sell semi-automatic assault rifles to out-of-state residents, according to court documents.
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, said the ruling was not a surprise and the group plans to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
“The judge doesn’t think that 18 to 20-year-olds have rights,” Gottlieb said. “A fundamental constitutional right should definitely apply to them as well.”
In a statement, Keely Hopkins, NRA’s Washington state director, blasted the decision.
“It’s disappointing but not surprising to learn that a sitting judge chose to blatantly disregard the constitutional infringements ballot initiative 1639 imposes upon law-abiding gun owners,” Hopkins said in prepared remarks. “Now more than ever it is imperative that those who choose to exercise their Second Amendment rights are not denied this fundamental freedom no matter where they call home.”
Long guns such as rifles or shotguns using manual operations to chamber rounds — including pumps, slides, bolts or levers — are still available for legal purchase at age 18.
Advocates for stricter gun laws hailed Monday’s ruling in a legal challenge that has simmered since February 2019.
In a statement, the head of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the group that campaigned for I-1639, applauded Leighton for upholding “commonsense provisions.”
“We are glad that Judge Leighton upheld these commonsense provisions that are designed to keep our schools and communities safe from gun violence,” said Renée Hopkins, chief executive officer for the Seattle-based group. “The gun lobby lost in the court of public opinion two years ago, and this lawsuit was a last-ditch effort to block these lifesaving policies.”
Similar to handgun purchases, I-1639 requires local law-enforcement jurisdictions to conduct enhanced background checks to make sure someone is legally eligible to possess a firearm.
After some sheriffs said they would not enforce the law, Attorney General Bob Ferguson wrote an open letter, saying they could be held liable for refusing to conduct the checks if someone not allowed to buy a gun was able to purchase one and use it for a crime.
In a statement Monday, Ferguson said he was “confident that Washington law enforcement officials will carefully review this ruling from a Bush-appointed federal judge upholding the constitutionality of I-1639.”
“It should not take another letter from me to convince them to do their jobs,” wrote Ferguson in prepared remarks, adding later: “Enhanced background checks will save lives, and the duty to perform these checks is not discretionary.”
In his order, Leighton also upheld a provision of I-1639 that bars the sale of semi-automatic rifles to out-of-state residents.
Gun-rights advocates, in the challenge, argued that component violated federal prohibitions saying state laws can’t discriminate against international or interstate commerce.
But those prohibitions — which come from what is known as the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause — are geared toward instances where states are engaging in economic protectionism, Leighton wrote.
The law’s ban on out-of-state sales doesn’t trigger that protectionism concern because it neither benefits Washington’s economic interests nor burdens other state’s economic interests, Leighton wrote.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A week before the traditional Labor Day kickoff, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden plunged into the fall campaign’s homestretch Monday with a bitter duel over racism and violence, casting the general election as a referendum on who would keep America safer as well as on Trump’s record in office.
Trump will intensify his focus on urban violence Tuesday, when he plans to visit Kenosha, Wisconsin, ignoring pleas from Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, and local officials that he stay away. The city has become a flashpoint in the nation’s unrest as it struggles with protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man.
For his part, Biden flew to Pittsburgh on his longest campaign trip since the pandemic stopped most of his in-person campaign operations last spring. In a forceful speech, the Democratic nominee accused Trump of deliberately fomenting violence with racially charged rhetoric to draw frightened voters to his side.
“Fires are burning and we have a president who fans the flames rather than fighting the flames,” Biden said. “Donald Trump looks at this violence and he sees a political lifeline.
“He may believe mouthing the words ‘law and order’ makes him strong, but his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows you how weak he is,” said Biden. “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is reelected?”
With the Democratic and Republican conventions now over, the speech marked Biden’s highest-profile effort to flip the script on Trump’s claims that a summer of mostly peaceful protests around the country, marred by scattered vandalism and violence, offers a dark preview of what the president called “Biden’s America.”
In a news conference a few hours after Biden’s speech, Trump again portrayed the former vice president as a tool of the Democrats’ left wing who refused to denounce violent protesters.
“The rioters and Joe Biden are both on the side of the radical left,” Trump said. “Biden is using Mafia talking points: The mob will leave you alone if you give them what they want.”
Biden in his speech scoffed at the effort to portray him as a left-wing radical, and repeated his frequent denunciation of violence and vandalism.
“Ask yourself, do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?” he said.
“I want to make it absolutely clear, so be very clear about all this: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple.”
Trump refused to condemn his own supporters, including Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with shooting and killing two protesters in Kenosha last week, saying the youth looked as if he was responding to being under attack.
Weeks of rising tensions and occasional clashes between pro-Trump groups and protesters in Portland, Oregon, erupted in gunfire Saturday night, leaving a local counterprotester dead. No one has been charged in the killing.
Trump brushed off concerns that his visit to Kenosha on Tuesday would heighten tensions in the volatile environment. The president said he had spoken to Jacob Blake’s family’s pastor but would not talk to the family because they wanted lawyers present.
But in an interview on CNN, Blake’s father said, “We don’t have a family pastor ... I don’t know who he’s talking to.”
The sharp Trump-Biden byplay offered a foretaste of what could dominate the final nine weeks of the race.
Republicans will try to focus on “law and order” because they believe the issue appeals to voters concerned about violence spreading to their communities — especially in suburban areas that are key to the election outcome.
Democrats will try to shift voters’ attention back to what they contend is Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis and his efforts to dodge responsibility for the growing turmoil in the country he leads.
Biden’s speech came the same day the COVID-19 pandemic passed another awful milestone: The U.S. tally of positive cases hit 6 million, far more than any other country, and more than 183,000 deaths.
”Mr. Trump, want to talk about fear?” Biden asked, speaking in a pivotal swing state but only to a small group of socially distanced reporters who traveled with him. “You know what people are afraid of in America? They’re afraid they’re going to get COVID. They’re afraid they’re going to get sick and die. And that is no small part because of you.”
The last week has underscored how much the final stages of the 2020 presidential campaign will be buffeted by unpredictable events as well as carefully calibrated campaign strategy.
The Biden campaign had hoped to keep their focus on the Trump’s handling of the coronavirus contagion and double-digit unemployment, which they see as a political millstone for an unpopular president.
But Trump’s relentless tweets and speakers at the Republican National Convention last week helped move the campaign’s focus to Kenosha, and Portland.
Biden responded Monday with a clear pivot, shifting the focus from street violence to a broader array of calamities that have erupted on Trump’s watch, from a recession to a rising homicide rate to unsettled international affairs.
”We are facing multiple crises — crises that, under Donald Trump, keep multiplying,” Biden said. “COVID. Economic devastation. Unwarranted police violence. Emboldened white nationalists. A reckoning on race. Declining faith in a bright American future. The common thread? An incumbent president who makes things worse, not better.”
Biden’s trip to Pittsburgh suggested that Trump’s constant taunting of him as huddling in his basement was beginning to take a toll, as Democrats have urged him to venture out more. He has mostly stayed at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, because of public health guidance about how to prevent and protect against the spread of COVID-19.
He flew to Houston in June to meet privately with the family of George Floyd, the Black man who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis. He also traveled to Washington, D.C., in July to pay tribute to the late Rep. John Lewis.
He said last week that he will start visiting Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona, Pennsylvania and other battleground states after Labor Day for events that are consistent with the public health guidelines of the communities he visits.
He made an unannounced stop after his speech Monday to deliver a few pizzas to Pittsburgh Firefighters Local 1. Wearing a mask the entire time, he spoke briefly with the firefighters and posed for a group photo.
”I was worried my staff was going to keep them,” Biden said of the pizzas.
WENATCHEE — A drive-in movie is coming to Town Toyota Center, complete with a 50-foot inflatable screen.
The movie “Frozen II” will be presented 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26.
There is no charge for attending but you must preregister. There are 73 spots, and so far, 54 have been taken.
“We have it set up for every other space so there is nobody right next to you or in front of you. We should have good visuals. For concessions, we have a taco truck and an ice cream truck. The Town Toyota Center has opened the building for restrooms. We think we have everything covered,” said Caryl Andre, Wenatchee Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services recreation supervisor.
The city of Wenatchee has contracted with Fun Flicks for the screen and sound system that including an FM transmitter to pipe sound over car radios.
City parks has typically has a movie at Lincoln Park during the summer months. Since that was not possible due to COVID-19 restrictions in Chelan County, the department decided to offer a drive-in movie instead.
“We went by the governor’s guidelines and put it together. We were waiting to get to Phase 2. Then, the governor came out with modified Phase 1.5 which allowed drive-in movies, so we were able to pull the trigger on all of our marketing,” Andre said.
“It’s been a huge response. The phone has been ringing off the hook.”
You can bring your own snacks, but you must remain in the car to watch the movie. If you leave the car for concessions or restroom, Andre said you must wear your mask.
The city is paying $4,500 to put on the movie. Farmers Insurance is the sponsor.
To register for the movie, go to wenatcheewa.gov and look under the parks and recreation program page or call Wenatchee Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services at 888-3282.
WENATCHEE — Free lunches returned to Wenatchee and Eastmont schools today and will continue at least through the end of December.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday ruled that schools that had been offering summer meal programs could keep using federal funds to serve free meals for children up through 18 years old through the end of the year.
Without the extension, with the start of the school year, districts had to return to previously waived rules requiring families either to pay for meals or apply for free or reduced lunch status.
Wenatchee and Eastmont families started dealing with the extra paperwork, which included showing proof of enrollment for meal pickup, when school started Wednesday.
As of today, those complications disappeared. The districts were able to switch gears in a day.
“We were hoping this action would be taken by the feds and when the announcement came out yesterday we worked with OSPI on guidance,” Wenatchee School District spokeswoman Diana Haglund said today. “It turns out because we were authorized for the summer meals program during the spring we were authorized to immediately transition back to that model. Basically, we are removing the authorization piece — making sure students are enrolled, have a meal application on file or meals account balance. We can now feed all kids 0-18, no questions asked.”
Eastmont schools posted the news on its Facebook page Tuesday morning, announcing the free meals would be provided.
“Children do not need to be an Eastmont student and student identification is not required,” the post reads. “Parents may continue to pick up meals for children in their household.”
Other districts are making the switch as well.
The state also ruled last week that districts will be allowed to use transportation funds to distribute meals to outlying areas, as had been offered in the spring. Figuring out that schedule will take some time, but is expected in the next few weeks, Haglund said.
“This is a huge relief for our schools and the families we serve,” Wenatchee Superintendent Paul Gordon said. “Many of our families who might not qualify for free meals are still struggling. With this decision, they have one less thing to worry about and can focus on supporting their children during remote learning.”
The change is expected to increase meal counts.
Last week, about 300 meals a day were served, Haglund said.
“We hope to return that to last spring’s count of 2,000 meals a day,” she said.
Beginning Tuesday and each school day, Wenatchee schools’ food service department will distribute pre-packaged breakfast and lunch 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at:
Meals will be distributed from 11 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. at Pioneer and Foothills middle school.
At Eastmont, meals can be picked up between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. at Lee and Rock Island elementary schools, Eastmont Junior High and Clovis Point Intermediate, and from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at Eastmont Junior High.