YACOLT — Town councilors voted unanimously Monday night to pass a resolution declaring Yacolt a sanctuary from Initiative 1639, the gun-control measure passed by Washington voters last November.
The effort to declare the town a sanctuary was led by the North County Sons and Daughters of Liberty, a group Shauna Walters of Battle Ground started in April in response to I-1639. She and her group had teamed with another political protest group, Patriot Prayer, to hold weekly rallies in Battle Ground in March in support of sanctuary status, but city councilors there decided against taking action.
After the Yacolt council passed the resolution Monday night, Walters was teary-eyed outside of town hall while celebrating with some supporters.
“This is the first one I tried to do myself with my team,” she said. “We worked really hard to knock on doors and talk to people, and to get signatures. We wanted something more organic to north county.”
Yacolt is the first local jurisdiction to pass such a resolution, although groups have visited just about every council in the county to push for sanctuary status.
Although cities may declare themselves sanctuaries, municipal attorneys say enforcement would be problematic.
In February, Washougal’s city attorney, Ken Woodrich, wrote that “Until a statute is either overturned or stayed by the courts, it is presumptively constitutional and an ordinance or rule adopted contrary to a statute is preempted and legally null and void. Failing to enforce the statute would violate the oath of office sworn to by law enforcement officers, elected officials and the city manager.”
The initiative expands background checks on sales of semiautomatic rifles and requires safe storage for guns. While proponents say the measure is about gun safety, others worry it’s a step toward confiscation of firearms. It requires the Department of Licensing, working with local and state law enforcement, to develop a process to verify at least once a year that individuals who have acquired pistols or semiautomatic assault rifles remain legally eligible to own them. Opponents have raised concerns that this provision could lead to a gun registry.
The statewide measure passed with 59.35 percent of the vote in November. In Clark County, 54.01 percent of voters supported it. Yacolt residents were vehemently opposed, with 109 votes for and 379 against.
More than 30 people attended Monday’s meeting, a larger crowd than normal for Yacolt council meetings, according to a few councilors. Everyone who spoke during the meeting came out against 1639. Mayor Vince Myers spoke throughout the meeting about the benefits of passing a proclamation from the city decrying 1639 instead of passing a resolution, which could have unknown consequences on the town.
“We can express displeasure with the law,” he said. “A proclamation puts us on record saying ‘This law stinks.’ ”
A proclamation is a general statement from the council, which would have allowed them to say what they wanted to, Myers said. A resolution is more vague than a full-on ordinance, which is a local law. According to a report from the Municipal Research and Services Center, “resolutions are often limited to expressions of opinion,” while an ordinance “generally prescribes permanent rules of conduct or government.”
Just because residents don’t like the law doesn’t mean they can start to pick and choose which laws to follow, Myers said. The mayor was hoping the councilors would pass a strongly-worded proclamation speaking out against I-1639, and then community groups would start working to get signatures to get a ballot initiative to repeal the measure in a future election. Many residents felt that was too long a process to go through, as I-1639 officially becomes law on July 1.
“Doing nothing is going to keep the snowball melting,” Councilor Herb Noble said.
While Myers was more supportive of issuing a proclamation instead of passing a resolution, he is no fan of I-1639. At different points Monday night, he called the law “unconstitutional,” “an assault on civil rights” and as having a “foundation of quicksand.” Still, as mayor, Myers said he has to look out for the interests of the town. While residents in attendance at Monday’s meeting wanted the councilors to do something, Myers said they don’t know the fallout from passing the resolution.
No police force
Yacolt doesn’t have a police force. The town contracts with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office for service. Myers said he didn’t know how the resolution would affect that contract, or if the sheriff’s office would want more money to work with the town. Myers didn’t know if it would affect the level of service the county provides. He didn’t know if the sheriff’s office or some other state agency would sue the town.
In a letter to the town received prior to the meeting, Undersheriff Mike Cooke wrote that a lawsuit was filed regarding I-1639 in which Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins was named a defendant. Because of the lawsuit, Cooke wrote, the department declined to send a representative to the council meeting. While some sheriffs around the state said they won’t enforce 1639, Atkins announced in February his department will enforce it.
“As a law enforcement agency, we have a duty to enforce the law and follow the court’s guidance on this issue,” wrote Cooke, who didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article. “As is the case with any law, once it is passed and is in effect, we adhere to the law until a court rules otherwise. I-1639 is no different.”
Michelle Dawson of Yacolt said she’d support higher taxes to cover those unintended consequences if it meant the town was going to “take a stand” against I-1639. Not everyone agreed with that point, though.
Mary Rowe of Yacolt doesn’t support the initiative, but said Yacolt already has one of the higher tax rates in the county.
“We can’t afford a spring cleanup,” she said. “How can we afford a lawyer to fight this, if it comes to that?”
The residents of Yacolt, at least those at Monday’s meeting, are ready for a fight, though. Throughout the meeting, residents pleaded with the council to pass the resolution, to take a stand.
“Let’s be like our forefathers,” said Jeremy Dawson of Yacolt. “They didn’t sit around. They did stuff.”
There was a good deal of talk about the forefathers Monday night, with Yacolt residents saying 18th-century patriots didn’t worry about the repercussions of standing up to King George III when they rebelled.
Walters wasn’t sure of the next step for the Lviberty group. She said there has been talk of trying to get an ordinance passed, which would put the anti-1639 sentiment into law. That might be up to other group members to tackle, though, as Walters said this summer she is gearing up for her campaign to run for Battle Ground City Council Position 3. Plenty of people Monday night were willing to continuing their outreach work. Many said they hoped Yacolt taking the jump would lead to other jurisdictions following.
“It all has to start somewhere,” Jeremy Dawson said. “It can start right here in the beautiful town of Yacolt.”