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Monday, October 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington

Judge dismisses NRA lawsuit over Seattle’s new gun-storage law

UPDATED: Sun., Oct. 21, 2018, 5:16 p.m.

Tony Gomez, Violence and Injury Prevention Manager for Public Health – Seattle & King County, demonstrates the use of a gun lockbox during a news conference. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Tony Gomez, Violence and Injury Prevention Manager for Public Health – Seattle & King County, demonstrates the use of a gun lockbox during a news conference. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Seattle Times

A King County judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit brought by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation against Seattle’s new gun-storage law, siding with the city’s argument that even the ardent gun-rights organizations encourage their members to keep their guns safe.

Superior Court Judge Barbara Linde issued the order in the case over the law that requires gun owners to lock up their firearms when not carrying them or controlling them.

It’s unclear exactly what the ruling means in the long term in Seattle and for similar laws passed by Edmonds and King County because Linde didn’t rule on the plaintiffs’ central claim that Seattle’s requirements violate a Washington state law that prohibits cities from regulating guns.

The judge instead tossed out the suit on more technical grounds after the city contended the plaintiffs lacked standing and noted the law had yet to take effect.

“It seems the NRA jumped the gun in filing their lawsuit against this eminently reasonable legislation meant to protect children and the vulnerable,” Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a statement.

Alan Gottlieb, president of the Second Amendment Foundation, suggested an appeal could be forthcoming.

“It is frustrating when judges refuse to address the merits of a case and duck by saying the law is not yet in effect and plaintiffs have not proven that they will be arrested if they violate the law,” Gottlieb said in an email. “We will continue this litigation and force a judge to rule that the law is illegal.”

The NRA didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

In seeking a dismissal, Seattle claimed the plaintiffs lacked standing because they encourage their members to practice safe storage.

“They have not alleged an organizational purpose to promote such irresponsible storage. Nor could they plausibly do so, since the advice they give their members to make sure their guns are responsibly stored so as to be inaccessible to others, especially children — is consistent with, and not threatened by, the ordinance,” the city argued.

Holmes said in a statement after the ruling that “we don’t see how the NRA could have standing in future challenges to safe storage legislation in Seattle or other jurisdictions, short of them changing their mission to advise that their members keep guns openly accessible to children.”

Passed in July and set to take effect in February, Seattle’s law says a gun owner can be fined up to $500 if a firearm isn’t locked up. The fines jump to $1,000 if a minor, “at-risk person” or unauthorized user accesses the weapon and up to $10,000 if someone uses it to commit harm or a crime.

The NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation were joined in the lawsuit by two Seattle residents, Omar Abdul Alim and Michael Thyng, who sued almost immediately after Mayor Jenny Durkan signed the law.

They claimed the storage requirements violated Washington state law, which prohibits cities from regulating guns. Seattle leaders have said the city’s law deals with storage, rather than buying or carrying guns. Alim and Thyng cited a fear of home invasions as their motivation to keep their firearms unlocked.

The nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety, which is largely financially backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the law firm Orrick LLP stepped in to represent Seattle at no charge.

“We will continue to work with our partners to stop irresponsible legal challenges to this common sense, lifesaving measure,” Durkan added. “We will also ensure that significant portions of taxpayer money are not required in the case that there are future legal challenges to this law.”

The dispute over the city’s law comes as voters in November will decide on a statewide gun-regulations measure, Initiative 1639, which includes a storage provision more strict than the laws enacted this year by local governments.

Like those laws, the provision would require owners to keep guns secured with a lockbox, safe, trigger lock or similar device if kept in a place where a prohibited person — such as a child — could get them. But instead of civil penalties, I-1639 would create criminal penalties of gross misdemeanor and felony charges of “community endangerment.”

An owner could be charged with those crimes for allowing a prohibited person to access to a firearm and display it in public, cause it to discharge or use it to commit a crime.

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