Remarking on a unanimous ruling by a state appeals court upholding Washington State’s 36-year-old model firearms preemption law, nationally-recognized gun rights advocate Alan Gottlieb offered what may be the perfect argument to counter efforts by the gun prohibition lobby to nullify such statutes.
“State preemption is the most common sense approach to firearms regulation there is,” Gottlieb said. “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.”
Gottlieb is chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and the founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation.
What could be more logical than having a single standard for gun owners within a state than a mandate for uniformity? Take Montana, for example, where Gov. Greg Gianforte recently signed legislation easing gun restrictions and expanding carry options. The same laws apply whether one lives in Missoula or Miles City, which are hundreds of miles apart via I-90.
Gun control proponents have been pushing a form of preemption for years, perhaps unintentionally, when they advocate for federal laws, such as a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” not that they actually know what they’re talking about. After all, one glance at the definition of an “assault weapon” from the Center for American Progress leaves no doubt the definition’s author was woefully ignorant of such firearms: “Assault weapons are semi-automatic firearms—meaning that they fire a round every time the trigger is pulled—that are capable of accepting a detachable magazine and have another military-style feature such as a pistol grip, a folding stock, or a threaded barrel. Firearm manufacturers, in response to declining sales of handguns, began selling assault rifles in the civilian market in the 1980s as part of a broader effort to create a new market for military-style guns among civilian gun owners.”
The statement is absurd and demonstrably false. Semiautomatic look-alike firearms are not “assault weapons.” A true “assault weapon” would be a selective-fire model capable of fully-automatic fire. But this little sleight-of-hand is designed to misinform the gullible. More correctly identified as “modern sporting rifles,” they may outwardly resemble a military arm, but that’s about it. The AR-15 platform is the most popular rifle in America today, and that has nothing to do with handgun sales, which remain brisk.
And here’s the irony of demanding such firearms be banned by Congressional action. A federal ban on a whole class of firearms amounts to the ultimate preemption because it would prevent individual states from allowing people to own them. So much for “local control.”
The Seattle-based Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a billionaire-backed gun prohibition lobbying group, was advocating in 2019 to “Restore Local Authority” regarding gun control. Under such a scenario, gun control laws could be wildly different in, say, Washington’s King and Kittitas counties, which neighbor one another. King County is the state’s most populous, and tends to be dominated by liberal Seattle-based Democrats. Kittitas is a comparatively rural county on the east-central Cascade slope, where politics is more conservative, and there is a strong hunting and gun owning tradition and lifestyle. Why should a resident of one county be law abiding on one side of the county line, and a criminal on the other side, for possibly doing the same thing?
But here’s what the Alliance said: “For over 30 years, our local towns, cities, and counties have been blocked from taking action to prevent gun violence own their own because of the statewide preemption law. Local leaders are best positioned to know how best to protect their communities. We should restore their ability to limit firearm access and the open carrying of firearms in certain public places—like crowded events, public parks and libraries where kids play and learn.”
In Iowa, the billionaire-backed Everytown for Gun Safety bemoaned the fact that the city council in Iowa City repealed a so-called “gun safety” ordinance last year “to comply with HF 2502, a dangerous preemption law passed by the Republican legislature and signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds last month,” according to a prepared statement.
The question here is whether city should comply with state law or not.
When gun prohibition lobbying groups oppose state preemption, that’s a signal to grassroots gun rights activists it’s a good idea. Today, more than 40 states have some form of preemption statute, so Gottlieb’s assessment appears to be the prevailing wisdom. It is logical that every citizen in a state share the same rights and responsibilities as every other citizen. That’s not just Second Amendment logic, but 14th Amendment as well.
Years ago, when preemption statutes were pioneered and the common sense approach spread from one Legislature to the next, the reason was to eliminate a checkerboard of confusing and frequently contradictory local laws that were being violated by crossing an invisible line. With a single standard in place, it became easier for police and sheriffs’ departments, and county prosecutors.
Anti-gun groups insist they want “common sense” gun laws. Gottlieb’s observation addresses that sentiment precisely. Gun law uniformity is the epitome of common sense, which means the alternative—as preached by the gun prohibition lobby—is nonsense, and might be closer to chaos.