Will Washington State's latest anti-gun moves prompt a 2A exodus?

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Washington State lawmakers are headed home after this year’s session has adjourned, but not before they managed to pass several measures that are aimed directly at the state’s legal gun owners.

Given the anti-gun inclinations of Gov. Jay Inslee, it’s a near certainty that all of the new gun control measures approved by the legislature will be signed into law, and while they will also most likely face a court challenge, that’s not enough to keep some Second Amendment advocates from looking for the exit.

Coming so soon after the passage of Initiative 1639 in 2018 — which strengthened some gun-storage and waiting-period laws, and increased the age to purchase semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21 — the new legislation may well be the last straw for Vancouver business owner Randy Winkel.

Winkel, who owns and operates Brass Tacks Munitions and the English Pit Shooting Range in Vancouver, is considering moving his business to a more gun-friendly state, such as Idaho or Montana. The shooting range is used by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, although a move to Camp Bonneville has been in the works since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I know of at least three other companies that have recently moved out of Washington state, out of the Vancouver area,” Winkel said. “One has gone to Idaho, and two others have gone to Montana.”

Winkel said Washington already has so many gun laws in effect that adding more will make it harder for his business to survive. (A legal challenge to I-1639 was dismissed in August 2020.)

Winkel has already shifted more of his business to an online platform, he said, and that can be done from any state, especially if that state is more friendly to the gun industry.

While the new gun control laws in Washington State, which include a ban on buying or selling ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds and new restrictions on home-built firearms, probably won’t lead to a mass exodus (after all, California still has millions of gun owners despite the draconian laws on the books, for instance), it may very well accelerate the departure of some Second Amendment supporters and those who make their living in the industry like Winkel.

Before anyone starts packing, though, I’d encourage them to wait and see what the Supreme Court does with the Bruen case, which should be decided by late May or early June. While that case deals with the right to carry and not a magazine ban, the Court’s ruling is also expected to offer lower courts guidance about the correct standard of review that should be used in determining the constitutionality of gun control laws, and that could have a major impact on the ultimate fate of Washington State’s magazine ban.

Additionally the Court is also weighing whether to accept challenges to bans on “high capacity” magazines in New Jersey and California. The Ninth Circuit, which also covers Washington State, has ruled that those bans aren’t unconstitutional, even though they make possession of a commonly-owned item used for a variety of lawful purposes a criminal act, which squarely goes against what SCOTUS said in both the Heller and McDonald cases.

I believe there’s a pretty good chance that the Supreme Court will have something to say about these types of magazine bans in the not-too-distant future, and gun store owners like Randy Winkel and gun owners across Washington State will be pleased by what they hear.

Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that Washington State’s legislature has proven itself to be an eager ally to the gun prohibitionist lobby, but that may not be the case after this year’s elections. A red wave nationwide could sweep anti-gun Democrats from power; not just in Washington, D.C. but in Washington State as well, and the chances of that happening get better the more gun owners there are who turn out to vote in November.