UPDATED, 2/7/22 @ 5:56 P.M. – Bruce Harrell, the recently-installed mayor of Seattle, tried to invent a myth when he told reporters—without challenge—that Washington is one of a handful of states with a firearms preemption statute, a claim that is demonstrably false.
“We have too many guns pouring into the cities, and into our country,” Harrell asserted at just over 31 minutes into a 41-minute press event last Friday. “And you will hear this year me lead efforts on trying to get relief from the exemption RCW 9.41.290. You’ll hear me talking about that. I don’t know how many lives have to be lost before we realize we’re one of the few states that has that kind of restriction allowing the state to govern the laws we need for our city of Seattle.”
Contrary to Harrell’s claim, there are at least 42 states with preemption laws, which place sole authority for regulating firearms in the hands of the state legislature.
Harrell was referring to Washington’s nearly-40-year-old preemption law, which was adopted in 1983, strengthened in 1985 and has become a model for similar laws in other states, something the Seattle Times failed to mention in its coverage.
The head of a national gun rights organization headquartered in neighboring Bellevue weighed in Monday morning with a scathing rebuttal.
Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, declared in a prepared statement, “Bruce Harrell needs to reload his brain before shooting his mouth off. Forty-two states have preemption laws, and that is hardly ‘a few’ states, as Harrell would have the public believe. Washington was among the first to adopt this law in 1983, and its statute has been used as a model by other states when they adopted similar statutes because they all saw the common sense of gun law uniformity.
“Harrell and other anti-gunners would have us roll back the calendar to a time when a literal state of confusion existed in Washington,” he continued. “Before preemption was wisely adopted by the State Legislature, we had a checkerboard of often conflicting local gun regulations. State lawmakers properly took control of this mess and cleaned it up with a single set of regulations that apply equally from the Canada border to the Columbia River.
“This is why gun owners don’t trust low-caliber politicians,” Gottlieb observed. “They don’t shoot straight. Washington has led the nation in so many ways, and that certainly applies to gun law responsibility. Our state provided the road map for the majority of other states to bring not only uniformity but integrity to gun laws, and Harrell wants to bring back what amounts to chaos.
“Mayor Harrell tried to invent a myth, and we’re shocked that nobody in the local media challenged him on this,” Gottlieb said. “It is not difficult to find the truth about preemption and how widespread this reasonable, rational approach has become. The question reporters should now be asking is if the mayor was so wrong about preemption, what else is he wrong about?”
Washington’s law is clear and concise:
“The state of Washington hereby fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state, including the registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation of firearms, or any other element relating to firearms or parts thereof, including ammunition and reloader components. Cities, towns, and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to firearms that are specifically authorized by state law, as in RCW 9.41.300, and are consistent with this chapter. Such local ordinances shall have the same penalty as provided for by state law. Local laws and ordinances that are inconsistent with, more restrictive than, or exceed the requirements of state law shall not be enacted and are preempted and repealed, regardless of the nature of the code, charter, or home rule status of such city, town, county, or municipality.”
Even Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety gun prohibition lobbying group acknowledges the widespread adoption of preemption laws. Anti-gunners despise these statutes because they prevent local governments from adopting their own restrictions which are confusing and often contradictory. It was that problem preemption solved by making gun laws consistent from border-to-border in each state. In the case of Washington, gun laws are the same in Ilwaco, on the state’s southwest coast, as they are in Ione, a small village in the state’s northwest corner near the border with Idaho to the east and Canada just a few miles north.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation put it succinctly: “Historically, firearms preemption has faced opposition in large metropolitan areas. Local officials cite the differences between rural and urban areas as the reason for needing to repeal firearms preemption, but this “repeal and replace” process only serves to limit the powers of the Second Amendment and create disparity within a state with regards to what types of laws residents must adhere to. This is perhaps the most important principle of preemption – the equal distribution of the law. Keeping firearm and ammunition regulations at the state level prevents discrepancies from locality to locality. This ensures that all gun owners in a particular state have equal rights, regardless of location.”
During his remarks, Harrell acknowledged, “My proposition is that every city should be able to look at that … because I know what kinds of things I would like to do if I had that flexibility as a mayor and our city council had the flexibility as a legislative body. So you’re gonna hear in addition to short-term strategies, short term investments, how we can get out from under that law. And I ask anyone who’s listening to help us in those efforts.”
But Evergreen State gun owners are hardly in a helpful mood. For nearly four decades, they have enjoyed gun law uniformity, and realized how well it works. They also understand how anti-gun city officials such as Harrell would create a mountain of restrictions if they could.
Back in 2012, when Harrell was on the city council and chaired the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee, he considered running a statewide initiative “to allow larger cities like Seattle to modify” the preemption law, as reported at the time by The Stranger, an “alternative” newspaper. For Harrell, preemption appears to be a long term obsession.
The Stranger article offered details on Harrell’s vision for local gun control: “This Initiative, if passed, would allow Seattle to enact laws that would increase public safety in our neighborhoods, schools and businesses by 1) requiring mandatory gun safety training for concealed carry license permits, 2) requiring handgun trigger locks, 3) requiring gun safes, and 4) requiring gun data collection. Data shows a direct, negative correlation between the rate of gun deaths and states that ban assault weapons and require handgun trigger locks and safes.”
Liberty Park Press reached out to Harrell’s office over the weekend for comment, but has so far not received a reply.