Washington State AG sues gun store over magazine sales

Washington State AG sues gun store over magazine sales
(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Back in July, the state of Washington’s ban on the sale, purchase, and manufacture of “large capacity” magazines capable of accepting more than 10-rounds of ammunition took effect. The new law is being challenged in federal court, with a trial scheduled for December of next year, but in the meantime Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who’d been lobbying for the ban for years, has been eager to flex his newfound power to sue gun stores that continue to sell “large capacity” magazines while the ban is still in effect and enforceable.

Shortly after the magazine ban took effect, Ferguson started sending out investigators to gun shops across the state. Posing as customers, they’d ask those behind the counter for some of those forbidden magazines, and now the AG says he’s initiating a lawsuit against Federal Way Discount Guns and its owner Mohammed Reza Baghai for allegedly providing them for sale during the sting operations.

The defendants face a maximum penalty of $7,500 every time the store offered a high-capacity magazine for sale and $7,500 every time it illegally sold a high-capacity magazine.

The lawsuit follows a statewide sweep of gun dealers conducted by investigators in the AG’s office. Attorney General investigators visited 25 firearms retailers across Washington over a period of several months to confirm that the retailers were complying with the new law by attempting to purchase the unlawful magazines.

Only two retailers did not comply and were offering high-capacity ammunition magazines. One of these was Federal Way Discount Guns.

This is Ferguson’s first enforcement of the sales ban, which was adopted by Washington earlier this year.

“Our sweep confirmed that the overwhelming majority of gun retailers in Washington are doing the right thing and complying with the law,” Ferguson said.

From August to November of this year, investigators visited Federal Way Discount Guns four times to purchase high-capacity magazines. Investigators found a wall of dozens of high-capacity magazines openly displayed for sale.

During each sale made to Attorney General’s staff, the sales clerk destroyed the record of the sale or made comments to the investigator indicating they knew the sale of the magazines was unlawful. In one instance, a sales clerk told an investigator that “it’s the nature of the beast” but that he couldn’t provide a receipt because the magazines held “more than 10 rounds.” The sales clerk then crumpled up the sales receipt that was automatically generated from the cash register and threw it in the garbage.

During another visit, the store’s owner, Baghai, personally sold a 30-round magazine for an AR-15 style rifle and a 33-round magazine for a Glock 17 pistol to the investigator and threw the store copy of the receipt into the garbage.

Now Ferguson is not only seeking tens of thousands of dollars in penalties against the FFL, he’s also seeking an injunction that would bar Federal Way Discount Guns from selling “large capacity” magazines in the future.

I wonder if that might not be an opportunity for Baghai to challenge the magazine ban in court. With the trial date in the FPC/SAF lawsuit still a year away, Ferguson’s request for an injunction in state court could open up a new avenue to take on the constitutionality of the state’s gun ban. There’s already a GOA/GOF-funded lawsuit going after the voter-approved I-1639 in state court, but to the best of my knowledge the recently enacted magazine ban is only facing federal litigation.

Washington’s state constitution guaranteeing that “the right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired,” and it seems to me that banning the sale of magazines that can hold more than ten rounds of ammunition does impair the right of armed self-defense to at least some degree. It’s true that studies have shown most defensive gun uses involve firing less than ten shots, but then studies have also shown that the vast majority of defensive gun uses don’t involve pulling the trigger at all. No one would seriously suggest that a law banning loaded firearms would be constitutional, so where is the constitutional rationale for limiting the number of rounds to ten?

I don’t know if Baghai was hoping to pick a fight with the state by selling “large capacity”magazines, but like it or not he’s in one now. Ferguson’s attempt to enforce the state’s magazine ban could be start of a chain reaction that leads to the law’s unraveling… at least if Baghai doesn’t back down in the face of civil litigation.