Should local governments get free legal assistance when ordinances or regulations they adopt that violate state statutes and/or infringe on the rights of citizens are challenged in court?
That’s a question likely to come up in Seattle, Washington, where two national gun rights organizations with members living in that city sued the municipal government, its mayor and police chief Friday morning, alleging violation of the state’s 35-year-old “preemption” law. That statute, passed in 1983, places sole authority for gun regulation anywhere in the state in the hands of the Legislature. It prevents local cities, towns or counties from adopting what would become a patchwork quilt of confusing, and possibly conflicting gun laws.
The National Rifle Association and Second Amendment Foundation have once again teamed up in a legal challenge against a city. They jointly sued New Orleans over the post-Hurricane Katrina gun confiscations, they sued Seattle earlier over an attempted gun ban on city park property and they sued to prevent a gun ban in San Francisco. They filed individual lawsuits against the City of Chicago to nullify its gun ban. In all of those cases, they won.
Almost immediately after Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan inked an ordinance requiring so-called “safe storage” with civil penalties ranging upwards to $10,000 for violations if they result in a criminal act or harm to someone, Everytown for Gun Safety announced it would defend the city against any challenges pro bono.
“Following the Seattle City Council’s passage Monday of Mayor Jenny A. Durkan’s ordinance that promotes gun safety by encouraging responsible storage of firearms, Everytown for Gun Safety announced that Everytown’s Litigation Team, along with Orrick LLP, will represent the City of Seattle on a pro bono basis in any resulting litigation,” the group said in a press release.
Everytown is the gun prohibition lobbying group supported by anti-gun billionaire Michael Bloomberg. The group has been heavily involved in gun control efforts around the country, including Washington State.
While the city is getting free legal help, SAF and NRA – and thus their members and supporters – must pay their own legal bills. No doubt there are lots of members in and outside of Washington State who may contribute to the groups to help with those legal costs.
Neither organization’s membership numbers in the state have been published, but estimates go well beyond 100,000, and a lot of gun owners who don’t belong, but who may be members or supporters of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Washington Arms Collectors, Washington State Rifle & Pistol Association or some local gun club have a stake in the challenge.
Earlier this month, the state Department of Licensing reported that there are more than 584,000 active concealed pistol licenses in the state. Of those, more than 98,500 are held by residents of King County, where Seattle is located.
SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb said in a prepared statement that, “The City of Seattle has been trying to erode state preemption almost from the moment it was passed.”
The city has had one gun control success. Three years ago, it adopted a “gun violence tax” on firearms and ammunition that was upheld by the liberal state Supreme Court. That tax was projected to raise between $300,000 and $500,000 annually for “gun violence prevention” programs.
However, as revealed because of a Public Records Act lawsuit filed by SAF and the editor of a firearms magazine, the city only raised $103,000 during the first year of the tax and $93,000 the second year. The city did not want to release the data.
Instead of raising revenue, the city drove one gun shop out of town and another one nearly out of business. The suspicion has always been that Seattle simply wants to drive guns and gun owners out of its jurisdiction.
But should the city get free legal help to do that?