The Washington State Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case involving the City of Edmonds’ attempt to skirt the state’s long-standing firearms preemption statute with a gun control ordinance requiring so-called “safe storage” of firearms and holding gun owners responsible for crimes committed by people who steal their guns.
Edmonds adopted the ordinance in the summer of 2018, and the Second Amendment Foundation and National Rifle Association promptly sued. The case is known as Bass v. City of Edmonds.
The oral arguments may be watched here.
Washington became one of the first states in the nation to adopt a preemption statute, placing sole authority for gun regulation in the hands of the state legislature. The law prohibits local governments from adopting their own gun control regulations, a system municipalities have opposed since the law was signed first in 1983 and strengthened in 1985.
Here is the full text of the state statute:
“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with, more restrictive than, or exceed the requirements of state law shall not be enacted and are preempted and repealed, regardless of the nature of the code, charter, or home rule status of such city, town, county, or municipality.”
Edmonds lost at trial and appealed. In early 2021, the State Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the trial court’s ruling, finding in favor of SAF and NRA. The city appealed to the state high court.
Seattle had adopted a similar ordinance prior to Edmonds, and SAF and NRA is now pursuing a lawsuit against that municipality.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb observed, “It is clear to us that a handful of cities are trying desperately to erode Washington’s long-standing preemption law. Their goal is to discourage citizens from exercising their rights under the state and federal constitutions by financial intimidation. The city council clearly understands preemption, but went ahead with this ordinance, anyway, undoubtedly knowing it would be overturned by the court. It seems as though their ultimate goal is to convince voters that gun law uniformity is somehow a bad idea, so it should be changed.
“They would like to take Washington back decades to a time when citizens had to contend with confusing and conflicting local ordinances and regulations,” he added. “Preemption was adopted to eliminate that mess and make sure it doesn’t happen again. The law has worked for more than three decades. It doesn’t need fixing.”
Of particular annoyance to Evergreen State rights activists is how the local media portray the ordinance. As reported by the Seattle Times, it’s a “gun safety” measure, when it is really a gun control ordinance. Under the Edmonds ordinance, people could be fined up to $10,000 if a child or “person-at-risk,” were to obtain an unsecured firearm.
The NRA described it as an attempt to “transfer the guilt of gun thieves to the gun owners they victimize.”
It is not clear when a ruling might be expected.