Washington State Supreme Court Will Review Gun Storage Law

Photo Courtesy of the National Shooting Sports Foundation

A storage law in the Seattle suburb of Edmonds, Washington that requires gun owners to keep their firearms locked up unless they’re under the control of the gun owner will face scrutiny by the state Supreme Court, and Second Amendment activists are hopeful that the local ordinance will be tossed as a result.

In fact, a state appellate court struck down the law earlier this year, ruling that the city violated the state’s firearm preemption law by imposing its own rules on gun owners. Now it’s up to the state Supreme Court to decide whether or not the lower court got it right. As a local website in Edmonds reported back in February when the appellate court decision came down, the case has had a long and winding road since litigation began several years ago.

Originally filed in 2018, the suit argued that Edmonds’ ordinance violates Washington State’s preemption statute (RCW 9.41.290), which grants exclusive authority for gun regulation in Washington to the state Legislature. The suit, brought by Edmonds residents Brett Bass, Curtis McCullough and Swan Seaberg, was joined by the National Rifle Association and Second Amendment Foundation.

This was followed by a flurry of legal filings on both sides. Plaintiffs continued to maintain that the Edmonds measure violates state law and should be struck down, and the City of Edmonds argued to dismiss the suit on the basis that the plaintiffs “lacked standing” — a technical argument meaning that they would suffer no harm should the ordinance move forward and hence have no stake in the outcome and cannot file suit.

In March 2019, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris denied the city’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiffs do indeed have standing, thus allowing the suit to proceed.

In June 2019, the NRA and Second Amendment Foundation pulled out of the suit but continued to provide support to the remaining plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs appealed, and in October 2019 the court (again presided over by Judge Farris) granted a partial victory to both sides, finding that the plaintiffs’ standing applies to the safe storage but not the unauthorized use provisions of the ordinance. Accordingly, the court ruled that the State preemption law applies to the storage provisions but not the unauthorized use provisions. This said in effect that the City of Edmonds cannot tell people how to store their guns, but can levy fines against gun owners whose firearms are possessed or used by unauthorized persons.

The new Appeals Court ruling issued Monday goes beyond this, finding that the plaintiffs have standing to bring suit against both the storage and unauthorized use provisions of the Edmonds ordinance, and further finding that the state preemption statute also applies to both of these provisions.

The ruling concludes with the following language:

“We therefore conclude that RCW 9.41.290 [the Washington State Preemption Law] unambiguously preempts both ECC 5.26.020 [the safe storage provisions of Edmonds Ordinance 4120] and ECC 5.23.030 [the unauthorized use provisions of Edmonds Ordinance 4120].

While the case involves a local ordinance, national groups on both sides of the gun control debate are heavily involved. Besides the NRA and SAF’s support of the plaintiffs, Everytown for Gun Safety’s in-house law firm is providing legal assistance to the city of Edmonds. The gun control lobby hates firearm preemption laws, and has been challenging them in several states by encouraging localities to pass their own local anti-gun ordinances with the promise of pro bono legal help if they get sued. They’ve also been trying to repeal firearms preemption statutes through legislation, and successfully removed Colorado’s preemption law back in June. Virginia’s firearm preemption laws were also weakened this year, and we’ve seen several cities and counties move to enact their own local gun control laws as a result.

A gun storage law in a Seattle suburb may not seem like that big a deal, but given the fact that Edmonds’ attempt to challenge Washington State’s preemption law is part of a broader strategy by anti-gun groups, gun owners should keep an eye on this case as well as keeping watch for attacks on preemption in their own state.

That’s particularly true for gun owners in Washington, who should be prepared for a legislative assault on firearms preemption in Olympia next year. I don’t think the gun control lobby will wait for the state Supreme Court’s decision to come down before they demand changes to state law, and with Democrats in complete control of the legislature, they’ll likely be eager to please, particularly given the fact that next year is an election year for Washington lawmakers. The Bloomberg bucks will be flowing in support of “gunsense” candidates, and there’ll be plenty of Democratic state representative and senators who’ll want their share.