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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Police chief in tiny Republic says he won’t enforce new gun law

Republic Police Chief Loren Culp and his police dog, Karma. “I’m just standing up for people’s rights,” the chief says. (Seattle Times)
By Erik Lacitis Seattle Times

The old, picturesque mining town of Republic in northeast Washington is 300 miles from Seattle, and a long, long ways from how Seattle folks think about issues. Like guns.

Loren Culp, the police chief in Republic, pop. 1,100, recently got a big shout-out from Ted Nugent, the “Cat Scratch Fever” rocker who these days is also known for his gun-rights and hard conservative views, and calls himself the “Motor City Madman.”

The reason for the shout-out was that Culp announced he wasn’t going to enforce Initiative 1639, the strict state gun-law measure passed Nov. 6.

On his Facebook page with 3.2 million followers, Nugent wrote, perhaps a bit hurriedly as he misspelled a word, “Chief Loren Culp is an Anerican freedom warrior. Godbless the freedom warriors.”

The initiative that goes into effect Jan. 1 is one of the toughest in the country, raising the legal age to buy a semi-automatic rifle to 21, from 18, and requiring enhanced background checks.

The initiative also includes a “safe storage” provision that, in some circumstances, makes firearm owners criminally liable if someone not allowed to access a gun uses it in a crime. That provision won’t apply if, say, a gun is stolen that was secured, such as in a safe, and the owner reports the incident within five days.

Not only is the chief — the entire Republic police force consists of Culp and a deputy — not going to enforce the law, but on Monday night, the City Council is going to take up for discussion an ordinance proposed by the chief.

He’s titled it the “2nd Amendment Sanctuary City Ordinance,” borrowing the “sanctuary” wording long used to describe places that limit how local law enforcement cooperates with federal immigration authorities.

The proposal certainly doesn’t mince its purpose.

First, it says that “all federal and State acts, laws, orders, rules or regulations regarding firearms, firearm accessories, and ammunition are a violation of the 2nd Amendment.”

Then, it says that any such laws are “hereby declared to be invalid in the City of Republic.”

Culp says the response has been overwhelmingly positive from the locals.

Republic is in Ferry County, which voted 73 percent against the initiative, almost an exact flip from King County, which went 76 percent for the initiative.

As of Sunday afternoon, on the official “Republic Police WA” Facebook page, that Nov. 9 announcement by the chief had gotten 797 thumbs up, 292 hearts and only three sour faces.

An example of the comments is from Michelle from Bernice, California, “Wish we had your breed of man in kommifornia.”

On Sunday, the chief was featured on Fox News. “Only 2.5 million viewers this morning nothing to be nervous about,” Culp wrote on Facebook.

The reaction from the state Attorney General’s Office to the chief’s proposal has been curt: “We will review the city’s ordinance if it passes.” And, “We have nothing further to add at this time.”

Culp, 57, says it wasn’t his intention to get so much attention.

“I’m just standing up for people’s rights,” he says. “I had people asking if the Police Department was going to start arresting teenagers, 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds, carrying and using a semi-automatic .22 rifle. I told them, ‘I’m not going to infringe on someone’s constitutional rights.’”

Culp goes on, “A semi-automatic .22 rifle is used for teaching young kids marksmanship. It’s a common thing in rural areas. It doesn’t have much of a kick. It’s a small-caliber gun. And now it’s called an assault rifle?”

And as for having five days to report a stolen gun, he says, “So now you have to check your safe every five days to make sure it’s not been broken into, and make the inventory of guns is still correct? It’s ridiculous.”

Paul Kramer, who works in home renovation, is the citizen sponsor of I-1639. He was asked about the chief’s comments.

Kramer’s teenage son was injured in a 2016 Mukilteo house-party shooting that left three others dead. The shooter in that instance was a 19-year-old who bought an AR-15 rifle about a week before the attack.

“An 18- to 20-year-old can legally purchase a firearm,” he says. But with I-1639, “They can’t legally purchase a semi-automatic weapon, just like they can’t legally purchase a handgun. They’re still able to purchase a bolt-action, pump-action, slide-action shotgun.”

As for somebody stealing a gun from a safe, Kramer says, “It’s improbable anybody else is going into their gun safe.”

Elbert Koontz, 72, is the mayor of Republic. He says he can’t think of anyone in town who thinks the chief’s proposal is a bad idea.

No liberals at all who came out for I-1639?

“Most of the town’s liberals still believe in the Second Amendment,” he says. “They’re mostly worried about building stuff for people that want to ride bikes.”

These days, the town’s website touts its outdoor activities such as ATV trails, fishing, hunting, snowshoeing and even fossil digging. The gold-mining boom days are long gone.

Koontz says the only negative comments he’s received are from the Seattle area. “Texting me. You guys are evil. Fire the police chief immediately. That kind of thing.”

He was asked if the city was prepared for possible litigation involving their proposed ordinance, and the cost involved.

“We’re a small town, you know. There are two people in City Hall, three, counting me. I don’t know what will happen. It’s up to the City Council,” he says.

Ulrich Semrau, 68, who holds an unusual title in Republic, and, actually, any town in this country, talks about why it might become a gun sanctuary.

He is Republic’s “official resident City Philosopher,” says the town’s website.

A few years ago, says Semrau, a retired psychoanalyst who’s lived there for 20 years, “the City Council was having a bad week and I decided to make them laugh a little bit.”

In 2016, the council gave him the official title. On many days, Semrau can be found at the Republic Brewing Co., ready to dispense philosophy.

“People who live here are very individualistic, probably fairly libertarian,” he says. “People don’t want anybody telling them what they can do. My position is that we need to ask a different question. If we take the assumption that guns are a right, how do we, as a society, keep them out of the hands of someone who’s not mentally stable?”

Monday night’s City Council meeting has been switched to a large room at the high school, as the mayor expects a large turnout.

Even with no ordinance, the police chief says of enforcement of I-1639, arrests are at “the officer’s discretion” unless it’s a violent felony.

And just so it’s perfectly clear, Culp posted, “As long as I am Chief of Police, no Republic Police Officer will infringe on a citizens right to keep and Bear Arms, PERIOD!”

Loud enough to reach all the way to Seattle.