U.S.A. –-(AmmoLand.com)- Washington State’s 35-year-old firearms preemption law got a boost Monday with a unanimous state Appeals Court ruling that reversed and remanded a legal challenge against a so-called “safe storage” regulation adopted by the City of Seattle more than two years ago, essentially in defiance of the statute.
Buried in an early report from KIRO was the confirmation that the city has been receiving pro bono legal help while plaintiffs—the Second Amendment Foundation and National Rifle Association—have had no such assistance.
Seattle adopted the storage ordinance in July 2018 and was quickly challenged by SAF and NRA and two Seattle residents, Omar Abdul Alim and Michael Thyng. That October, King County Superior Court Judge Barbara Linde tossed the case on the grounds that plaintiffs lacked standing. She did not rule on whether the storage requirement violated the preemption statute.
At the time, as reported by KIRO7 Eyewitness News, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes declared, “It seems the NRA jumped the gun in filing their lawsuit against this eminently reasonable legislation meant to protect children and the vulnerable.”
But is the legislation reasonable, and is it even legal under the preemption statute? Now the courts will have a chance to make that determination.
Under the ordinance, which took effect in January 2019, gun owners could be fined up to $500 if they didn’t lock up their guns, and up to $1,000 if that gun fell into the hands of a juvenile or some other “unauthorized” person, including someone “at risk,” as reported by KING News at the time. The fine could go to $10,000 if the gun was used to injure or kill another person, or be used in a crime. SAF and NRA said this mandate clearly violates the preemption law, which was originally passed in 1983 and amended and strengthened in 1985. It has not been amended since 1994.
Here’s what the law says:
“The state of Washington hereby fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state, including the registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation of firearms, or any other element relating to firearms or parts thereof, including ammunition and reloader components. Cities, towns, and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to firearms that are specifically authorized by state law, as in RCW 9.41.300, and are consistent with this chapter. Such local ordinances shall have the same penalty as provided for by state law. Local laws and ordinances that are inconsistent with, more restrictive than, or exceed the requirements of state law shall not be enacted and are preempted and repealed, regardless of the nature of the code, charter, or home rule status of such city, town, county, or municipality.”
But SAF and NRA attorneys Eric Lindberg and Steve Fogg with Corr, Cronin in Seattle appealed. Two years later, a three-judge State Court of Appeals panel led by Acting Chief Judge Beth Andrus ruled unanimously that the plaintiffs did have standing, and that the trial court erred.
An elated Alan Gottlieb, SAF founder and executive vice president, said in a prepared statement, “Now we will have a trial on the merits of the case, which I believe we will win eventually.”
But Gottlieb noted the length of time it took for this decision to come down.
“A lot of our cases in Washington state have been stalled and have taken a long time to actually get resolved,” he said, “and it’s because they really don’t want to rule in our favor but they know eventually they’re going to have to.”
SAF and NRA also sued the City of Edmonds, located north of Seattle, for essentially the same thing and won that case in the trial court. This Appeals Court victory could discourage any further action in the Edmonds case.
It’s no secret Washington State has become a petri dish for gun control experimentation. Everytown for Gun Safety, the billionaire-backed gun prohibition group based in New York, has been involved in the Seattle case. It’s been theorized that this was a test to see how strong state preemption laws might be, since Washington’s statute has served as a model for similar laws in other states.
“Rogue city governments, especially ones that let rioters seize neighborhoods and destroy public and private property, cannot be allowed to skate around state firearms laws,” Gottlieb said, taking a swipe at Seattle’s recent history. “Seattle is not a special fiefdom inside Washington State, where officials can make up their own rules, especially when they directly affect the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.”
He called the city’s effort to erode the preemption law “cavalier.”
Joining Judge Andrus in the unanimous ruling were Judges Stephen Dwyer and Marlin Appelwick. In the ruling, Judge Andrus observed, “The challengers here make an adequate showing that their rights will be or have been adversely affected by the City ordinance. They allege they follow a certain firearm storage practice, the ordinance requires them to alter this practice or risk being in violation of the law, and Alim would have to purchase a gun locker to come into compliance. The facts alleged show an adversarial relationship sufficient to eliminate the risk that a ruling on the merits of their preemption challenge would be an advisory opinion only. We see no basis under the UDJA to require a person to confess to a violation of an ordinance and risk exposure to significant civil infractions before being able to challenge the validity of that ordinance under state law.”
Dan Nolte, with the Seattle City Attorney’s office, told KIRO his office is “reviewing the decision and will confer with our pro bono legal counsel on our potential next steps.”
SAF and NRA will wait to see what those “next steps” might be. The city could appeal this ruling to the state Supreme Court, or opt to take the case to trial on remand.
In the meantime, this amounts to a victory for Washington’s beleaguered gun owners and more fuel for what has been an ongoing effort for decades by anti-gun city officials who want to repeal the preemption statute so they may return to an era of patchwork local laws that confused gun owners and often conflicted with one another.
That’s why the state legislature exercised its authority and took such power away from local governments in the first place. The idea was so good, preemption is now on the books in at least 40 other states in various forms.
About Dave Workman