A Washington State appellate court has reversed and remanded for trial a challenge to a “safe storage” gun control ordinance adopted by the City of Seattle more than two years ago, saying the plaintiffs—including the Second Amendment Foundation and National Rifle Association—do have standing to bring the action.
The case was initially dismissed by the trial court judge on that technicality.
SAF and NRA filed suit in King County Superior Court almost immediately after the far left Seattle City Council unanimously adopted the storage requirement, claiming it violates the state’s 35-year-old preemption law. That statute places all authority for gun regulation solely under the control of the state legislature. The statute may be read here.
In October 2018, the lawsuit was dismissed by Superior Court Judge Barbara Linde. SAF and NRA appealed to the state Court of Appeals, Division 1. SAF and NRA were joined by Seattleites Omar Abdul Alim and Michael Thyng. The case is known as Alim v. City of Seattle. Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Eric Lindberg and Steve Fogg at Corr, Cronin LLC in Seattle.
Now, two years later, in a unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel led by Acting Chief Judge Beth Andrus, the court reversed Judge Linde’s ruling. The case has been remanded back to the Superior Court “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
It is unknown who will hear the case, because Judge Linde retired in December 2018, only two months after dismissing the complaint.
Gun control has become a hot political issue in Washington State. SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb, in a statement to the media, offered his explanation.
“A lot of our cases in Washington state have been stalled and have taken a long time to actually get resolved,” he said, “and it’s because they really don’t want to rule in our favor but they know eventually they’re going to have to.”
The Evergreen State was one of the first to adopt a firearm “preemption” law in 1983. It was revised in 1985 and again in 1994, but has not been tampered with for more than a quarter-century. During that time, there have been efforts to erode or repeal the law. Seattle contends it wants to have local control over gun owners, but that was the problem decades ago when the legislature took control of firearms regulation.
The language in the state statute seems straightforward, and that is why Seattle doesn’t like it. Several years ago, in a case known as Chan v. City of Seattle, the Court of Appeals upheld preemption when the city attempted to ban firearms, including those legally carried, from city park facilities. In that case, SAF and NRA were joined by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, the Washington Arms Collectors, Washington State Rifle & Pistol Association and several private citizens.
In her 18-page opinion, Chief Judge Andrus observed, “…contrary to the trial court’s ruling below and the City’s contention on appeal, a party’s failure to establish a justiciable dispute under Diversified Industries cannot divest a superior court of subject matter jurisdiction. Only the legislature can do so, and it can do so only by vesting exclusive subject matter jurisdiction in another forum. That has not occurred here.”
Several pages later, near the end of her ruling, Judge Andrus explains, “The challengers here make an adequate showing that their rights will be or have been adversely affected by the City ordinance. They allege they follow a certain firearm storage practice, the ordinance requires them to alter this practice or risk being in violation of the law, and Alim would have to purchase a gun locker to come into compliance. The facts alleged show an adversarial relationship sufficient to eliminate the risk that a ruling on the merits of their preemption challenge would be an advisory opinion only. We see no basis under the UDJA (Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act) to require a person to confess to a violation of an ordinance and risk exposure to significant civil infractions before being able to challenge the validity of that ordinance under state law. Alim and Thyng have sufficiently pleaded facts to establish individual standing…”
Summing up the victory, Gottlieb said, “We’re challenging the city’s cavalier behavior because they are not above the law. We adopted state preemption decades ago because it brought uniformity to Washington’s gun laws. Thanks to the Appeals Court, we can now move forward, and I’m convinced we’re going to prevail.”