Politics Blog

Whatcom sheriff: Background-check initiative doesn’t go far enough; takes no position on gun proposals

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo has been receiving questions about his positions on Initiatives 591 and 594, the two dueling firearm measures on the Nov. 4 ballot statewide.

He tells constituents via his private email account that he doesn’t support I-594, which would expand background checks for gun purchases to include gun shows and online sales.

Here’s an email from Elfo provided to the Politics Blog by a citizen. The sheriff confirmed the email was from him:

Thank you for your electronic mail that I received through Whatcom County’s email system. Washington state law prohibits the use of County resources (computer/email system/telephone system/etc./or office) to take a position to support or oppose of an initiative that will appear on the ballot. I am writing to you through a personal email account; however, this communication may be subject to a public disclosure request.

As Sheriff, it is my duty to enforce legislation whether or not I agree with it. It has been my practice since taking office not to take positions in support or opposition to any ballot propositions that involve laws I may have to enforce. In my experience as Sheriff, I have all too often found that those who most frequently commit crimes will not be discouraged by a more expansive background investigation process and will continue to steal them or acquire them through a black market that ignores regulations.

A serious approach to preventing crime involving firearms needs to involve policies and resources for a comprehensive approach that involves drastically improving the mental health system; the enforcement of existing laws; and sentencing guidelines that are adequate to protect citizens from criminals who use firearms. I do not support I-594.

In the phone interview, Elfo emphasized that he neither supported nor opposed 594. He emphasized the need for improvements to the mental health system. Law enforcement needs better access to mental health records. Federal prosecutors need to pursue gun cases so criminals can receive the stiff sentences provided for in federal law, Elfo said.

He mentioned that I-594, if approved, would create more work for his staff.

“I-594 doesn’t go far enough,” Elfo said.

He said he was also remaining neutral on I-591, which would protect gun owners from confiscation of their firearms, and would prohibit all background checks unless imposed federally.

The Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs did take a stand on both initiatives, supporting I-591 and opposing the expansion of gun registration in I-594.

In its opposition statement for 594, WACOPS made some of the same points as Elfo:

“This measure is being billed as a public safety measure but we, as law enforcement officers, do not believe that this will keep guns out of the hands of criminals or the mentally ill. They will continue to ignore the law and engage in black market transactions.

“The responsibility for enforcing this law — conducting background checks, investigating, and arresting citizens who do not comply — will fall on law enforcement, diverting already scarce resources.”

The headline was updated Oct. 2, 2014, to more fully reflect the sheriff's view of the initiatives.