Stevens County loses first round of red flag gun laws case

RaeLynn Ricarte

It was the case of “Ferguson versus Ferguson” at last week’s hearing to decide whether restraining orders should be enacted against Stevens County Sheriff Brad Manke and the NorthEast Washington Alliance Counseling so they could not take away gun ownership rights from residents being evaluated for mental problems.
“We just want clarity on whether we’re going to implement the law or not,” said Dr. David Nielsen, director of NEW Alliance, who was at the Oct. 15 hearing.
Will Ferguson, special deputy prosecutor for Stevens County, faced off in Superior Court against Jeffrey Grant of Seattle, who handles complex litigation for Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Local judges had declined to hear the case, so Judge Steve Dixon of Adams County was brought in to rule on the matter.
He complimented Stevens County on its legal brief outlying how the law could not suspend gun rights without a court hearing. However, he sided with the state against restraining orders being put in place while the matter was in the courts.
In his brief, Will Ferguson called out the state for “aspersions” against Stevens County’s stance.
“What the state called ‘hyperbolic rhetoric’ are statements and brief discussions of fundamental rights and ideals,” he wrote.
“It would not come as a surprise if the state believed the Declaration of Independence or the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution were similar ‘hyperbolic rhetoric.’”
Grant argued that the greater good was at stake; that the law had been enacted to protect people from violence at the hand of someone in a mental health crisis.
“The Legislature has the right and power to do what has been done,” he said. “The government is to ensure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare.”
He said the law already allows someone to be detained against their will when they were mentally disabled, so confiscating weapons is an accompanying step to prevent them from hurting themselves or others.
He said procedural due process was “flexible and doesn’t have any rigid boxes that need to be checked.”
“That’s like saying that our county has approved traffic stops so anything that occurs after one, like a vehicle search, doesn’t require due process,” rebutted Ferguson.
Manke, who was at the hearing, said he would have welcomed a restraining order.
“I’m not a fan of taking people’s firearms without a crime being committed or due process,” he said.
Ferguson said he wished Dixon had provided some guidance about how the county was supposed to comply with a law that is under dispute as unconstitutional.
Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen said the case will now move forward. He anticipates future rulings on its merits will be appealed by one side or another to finally be decided by the Washington Supreme Court.
“This is the beginning of a year-and-a-half or two-year process,” said Rasmusen.
“We believe this statute as written deprives our citizens of important constitutional rights and it is our duty to defend those rights.”
He said gun rights are enshrined in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and in Article 1, Section 24, of the constitution of Washington State.
“We are protecting the public and their rights in the face of this legislation,” said Rasmussen.

Find more on this story in the Oct. 16 issue of The Statesman-Examiner.