Once again, it appears Washington State’s state firearms preemption statute has survived another attempt by Democrats to repeal it, but grassroots gun rights activists are not letting down their guard.
House Bill 1178 sought to repeal the nearly-40-year-old law, which has served as a model for many if not most of the other 40-plus preemption statutes around the country. Seven western Washington mayors, all from the Puget Sound region, sent a letter to the Legislature supporting the measure.
Opponents of the bill testified in January that it would destroy uniformity in state gun regulations, turning back the calendar to a time when the state was essentially a political checkerboard of local regulations. Preemption solved that problem by placing responsibility for gun regulation completely in the hands of the Legislature.
Mayors asking for repeal were Bruce Harrell of Seattle, Seth Fleetwood of Bellingham, Cassie Franklin of Everett, Nigel Herbig from Kenmore, Penny Sweet of Kirkland, Cheryl Selby of Olympia and Angela Birney of Redmond. All are Democrats.
Harrell and his fellow Democrat mayors want the power to set their own gun restrictions, which critics have compared to establishing a “city-state” within Washington.
Seattle lost a major battle years ago when the city tried to ban firearms at city park facilities. Several rights organizations took the city to court and won, with the court ruling the ban violated the preemption statute.
Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously a “safe storage” requirement in the City of Edmonds also violated the preemption, essentially nullifying a similar ordinance in Seattle. Both measures were adopted in an effort to test the preemption statue.
However, anti-gunners have managed to move three other pieces of legislation, including House Bill 1240, which would ban the future manufacture, sale and importation of so-called “assault rifles,” House Bill 1143, which would force Washingtonians to get training and a permit-to-purchase from a local police agency before they can buy a firearm, and Senate Bill 5078, would allow lawsuits against the firearms industry.
The latter measure, if adopted, will immediately be challenged as a violation of the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, signed into law by former President George W. Bush.
The permit-to-purchase would almost certainly face a federal court challenge as a Second Amendment violation. Likewise, a ban on semiautomatic “assault rifles” will face a federal court challenge as well, should it become law.
According to an article at Crosscut, a poll conducted in late December showed that 58% of voters surveyed statewide favored a ban on the sale or transfer of semiautomatic rifles.
But back in January, Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, put this report into its proper perspective. At the time, Gottlieb noted, “Fundamental rights, including the right to keep and bear arms, must never be determined by the whims of survey respondents… Rights are special. We don’t need government permission to exercise them, nor do we need the blessing of a vocal minority, because in this country, citizens do not answer to the wishes of a mob.”
Earlier, Gottlieb chastised both Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, both Democrats, for pushing the gun ban. In December, Inslee supported the permit idea, insisting people needed licenses to drive and to catch fish.
“Driving is a privilege,” Gottlieb said at the time. “Recreational sport fishing is a privilege. But owning a firearm is a right protected by both the U.S. and Washington state constitutions. The notion citizens should need a license to exercise a right, and a permission slip from the police before they can exercise that right, is an abomination that clearly doesn’t pass the smell test.”
“The attorney general,” Gottlieb noted, “should know that constitutionally-protected rights are not determined by the whims of opinion polls. Both the U.S. and Washington constitutions protect the right to bear arms. Neither says a thing about the type of arms, how they function or what they can, or cannot, look like.”
Evergreen State grassroots activists are not letting down their guard, even on preemption. While the Legislature remains in session, there is always the possibility preemption could be brought back up somehow. And grassroots pressure will remain heavy where the other three bills are concerned.