A unanimous ruling Thursday by the Washington State Supreme Court is a major defeat for a Seattle-based gun prohibition lobbying group and Democrat state lawmakers who have been trying for years to make gun laws more complicated in the state.
The Court upheld Washington’s nearly four-decade-old firearms preemption statute in a lawsuit filed against the City of Edmonds’ so-called “safe storage” ordinance in August 2018 by the Second Amendment Foundation, National Rifle Association and three private citizens.
Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Steven C. González stated, “We hold that the plaintiffs have standing and that this ordinance is preempted by RCW 9.41.290. We affirm the Court of Appeals and remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
The case is known as Bass v. City of Edmonds.
SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb was elated by the court ruling. He told Liberty Park Press this was a “great victory” that should “send a signal to other municipal governments—especially the City of Seattle against which we have a nearly identical pending lawsuit—that they cannot enact their own gun restrictions in violation of state law or the state constitution.”
Some news reports have called this a setback for “gun safety advocates,” which is an inaccurate description of the people supporting the City of Edmonds, which had adopted the “safe storage” requirement for gun owners living in the city in July 2018. As noted by Gottlieb at the time, “Let’s be clear about something. Edmonds didn’t adopt this safe storage mandate in the interest of safety, but rather to challenge and erode, if not irreparably dismantle the state preemption law. The city has no business dictating to citizens how they should store firearms in their own homes.
“State preemption is the most common sense approach to firearms regulation there is,” he added. “It provides uniformity on gun laws from one state border to the other. Whether you live in Edmonds or Ephrata, the gun laws are the same.”
The ruling may also be a blow to anti-gun Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, who declared in February at a press gathering, “You will hear this year me lead efforts on trying to get relief from the exemption RCW 9.41.290. You’ll hear me talking about that. I don’t know how many lives have to be lost before we realize we’re one of the few states that has that kind of restriction allowing the state to govern the laws we need for our city of Seattle.”
Almost immediately, Gottlieb, speaking on behalf of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, responded, “Forty-two states have preemption laws, and that is hardly ‘a few’ states, as Harrell would have the public believe. Washington was among the first to adopt this law in 1983, and its statute has been used as a model by other states when they adopted similar statutes because they all saw the common sense of gun law uniformity.
“Harrell and other anti-gunners would have us roll back the calendar to a time when a literal state of confusion existed in Washington,” he added. “Before preemption was wisely adopted by the State Legislature, we had a checkerboard of often conflicting local gun regulations. State lawmakers properly took control of this mess and cleaned it up with a single set of regulations that apply equally from the Canada border to the Columbia River.”
Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson was not happy with the ruling. Quoted by the Associated Press, Nelson accused the high court of “tying the hands of all local governments in our state to do anything to protect our citizens.”
The story, appearing in the Yakima Herald, said Nelson complained that cities can “prohibit someone from smoking in a park, but we can’t prohibit them from bringing a handgun into a playground.”
There is no constitutionally-enumerated right to smoke, but there is a right to bear arms, recognized in both the U.S. and Washington State constitutions, Gottlieb noted. It is not clear what the Edmonds storage requirement has to do with legally carrying a firearm in a park or playground.
Almost from the time it was signed into law, preemption has been under attack by liberal city governments. For the past few years, state lawmakers from the Seattle area have pushed hard to repeal the law, and Gottlieb predicted they will double down now in the wake of this ruling.
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