Seattle is considering a “safe storage” mandate that may violate the state preemption statute. (Dave Workman)
UPDATED, 6-28: The Seattle City Council’s Gender Equity, Safe Communities, New Americans, and Education Committee on Wednesday passed a proposed “safe storage” requirement for gun owners living in the city, pushing it closer to a full vote by the council, according to KIRO News, the local CBS affiliate.
It might also set the stage for a collision with Washington State’s long-standing preemption law. Gun owners in Seattle could be penalized under this proposal for having their firearms stolen and used in crimes if they are not stored safely, which means it is kept “inaccessible or unusable to any person other than the owner or other lawfully authorized user.”
Second Amendment activists across the country, especially in states that have adopted preemption statutes, better pay attention. This effort isn’t just a local problem, it’s a test by anti-gunners to see whether this kind of preemption challenge can hold up legally. If it does in Washington, it could be used to erode preemption elsewhere, especially in states that modeled their preemption laws after Washington’s.
Former state Attorney General Rob McKenna has indicated legal action is most likely on the horizon, but the city is feeling cocky. The city won before the State Supreme Court on its so-called “gun violence tax” despite the state preemption law. The city is home to the billionaire-backed gun prohibition lobbying group now running a statewide initiative campaign to put another gun control measure on the November ballot. The state Supreme Court is liberal.
Under the proposal, gun owners are required to report a lost or stolen firearm within 24 hours, or face a fine of up to $1,000 if a prohibited person, at-risk person or minor gets that gun.
If such an individual uses the gun to harm or kill themselves or another person, the gun owner could face a fine of up to $10,000.
But does this proposal violate the 35-year-old state preemption law? That statute, adopted in 1983 and strengthened two years later, says this:
“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.”
McKenna told MyNorthwest.com earlier this month that this “bears some more research.” He noted at the time that the word “storage” does not appear in the statute, and he assumed that the city, if challenged, would make that argument.
But the statute is blunt: The state “fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation… 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.” Just because the word “storage” isn’t mentioned does not mean that the state doesn’t have final authority.
The National Rifle Association weighed in recently, noting that the proposed ordinance “would punish victims of crimes rather than criminals.”
“Gun safety and storage is a matter of personal responsibility and every person’s situation is different,” the NRA said. “It is unreasonable for the law to impose a one-size-fits-all solution. This poorly thought out legislation is without any consideration for personal circumstances. It invades people’s homes and forces them to render their firearms useless in a self-defense situation by locking them up.”
The concern among Evergreen State gun rights activists is that if all gun owners don’t get energized to fight this effort and the statewide gun control initiative, Washington might eventually end up like California, or New Jersey, for example, where the right to keep and bear arms is relegated to the status of government-regulated privilege.