The passage of I-1639 in Washington was a gun rights earthquake. The controversial ballot initiative which was approved by voters in November was pushed over the line by millions of dollars of billionaires’ cash.
The new law increased the minimum age to buy a semi-automatic rifle to 21, imposed a 10-day waiting period on all purchases, and mandates “enhanced background checks,” training and “safe storage” requirements for all gun buyers. And over a dozen of the state’s county sheriffs have pledged not to enforce it.
Now, in response to the domination of Washington’s politics by the western half fo the state, a group of gun rights supporters are proposing to break the state in two, creating a new state (which would be called Liberty) out of the counties that lie east of the Cascade Mountains.
A small group of supporters — about 50 from the news report video — held a small rally in the capitol rotunda on Friday.
Their leader is Spokane-area Republican Rep. Matt Shea, He spoke from the prospective new state’s flag featuring the outstretched wings of an osprey.
“I am not going to sit in a state that is going to try to take away our firearms either by regulation, by cost or by confiscation. Are you?” The crowd responded with a loud “no.”
Shea is known his support of rural ranchers defying federal regulations and for calling journalists “godless.”
Asked if the First Amendment would be respected in the new state, he responded, “The First Amendment is absolutely critical, especially religious freedom. The right of conscience in the Washington constitution, perfect toleration of religious sentiment and a lot of people are feeling right now that their right of conscience are being violated right now in Washington state.”
While it made for some good press and a few nice sound bites on the evening news, the rally was an underwhelming event based on video coverage.
Breaking up a state is a heavy legal lift. There have been a number of proposals to do that in California. And how many downstate Illinois residents would dearly love to de-couple themselves from the Chicago-dominated northern part of the state? Or dissolve the whole thing altogether?
There are a couple of more realistic options for those in Eastern Washington that might undo the damage that 1639 has done to their rights. Both of which involve the courts. The ballot measure, which was thrown out by lower courts, was allowed to go before the voters anyway by the state’s supreme court was always ripe for a legal challenge. Once it passed, a number of gun rights orgs filed suit to overturn it.
And then there’s the New York Rifle & Pistol Association case that’s currently before the US Supreme Court. If the Court rules that restrictions on Second Amendment rights have to to pass a strict scrutiny test, that could ultimately un-do much of 1639’s damage.
But that will take years. In the mean time, dreams of divvying Washington up into a liberal coastal state and a gun rights-respecting eastern state are just that…dreams. Elections have consequences and Washingtonians are going to have to deal with those consequences for years to come.