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Washington state Supreme Court rules against Edmonds gun storage law

UPDATED: Fri., April 22, 2022

By Joseph O’Sullivan Seattle Times

OLYMPIA – The Washington Supreme Court has struck down an Edmonds gun storage ordinance in a court order reaffirming state law that local governments can’t impose their own firearms regulations.

In an opinion signed by all nine justices, the court ruled that Washington state law “fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state.”

The ruling stems from an ordinance passed by the city of Edmonds in 2018 requiring that people secure their firearms. It allowed for civil fines of as much as $10,000 if an at-risk person or child gained access to an unsecured gun.

The city of Seattle passed a similar law that year, which has also been challenged.

Thursday’s ruling was a victory for gun rights organizations, such as the National Rifle Association and the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, both of which participated in the legal challenge.

In a statement, Alan Gottlieb, founder and vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, called the ruling “a great victory for the principle of state preemption.”

“This should send a signal to other municipal governments – especially the City of Seattle against which we have a nearly identical pending lawsuit – that they cannot enact their own gun restrictions in violation of state law or the state constitution,” Gottlieb added.

The foundation is also involved in the challenge of Seattle’s safe-storage law, Gottlieb wrote in an email. That Seattle challenge had been held up in anticipation of a ruling on the Edmonds case, he wrote, and “We will now move for judgment in our favor and win.”

In its case before the Supreme Court, the city of Edmonds argued that Washington’s preemption law only applied to certain areas – such as regulation of the registering, selling, and discharging of firearms – and not to ordinances on storage.

But in the court’s opinion, Chief Justice Steven C. González wrote, “We decline to limit the preemption statute to firearms’ transactions and active use.”

“That limitation is simply not consistent with the words of the statute as a whole,” he added.

In a statement Thursday, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson slammed the court’s ruling.

“The repeated failure of the state and federal government to implement these commonsense safety measures to protect our children from gun violence and then to have the state supreme court deny local governments this right feels barbaric,” Nelson said.

The court’s decision doesn’t have much broader impact. Washington voters in 2018 passed a ballot initiative that, among other things, created a statewide safe-storage law, albeit more limited in scope than the Edmonds ordinance.

That statewide safe-storage law – which a federal judge upheld as part of a 2020 ruling on the broader law – doesn’t require that firearms owners lock away their firearms. But under that law, firearm owners could face gross misdemeanor or felony charges for “community endangerment” if someone not allowed access to a gun – such as a child or a felon – gets hold of it and uses it in a crime, displays it in public or causes it to discharge.

In a statement Thursday, former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan called for state lawmakers to lift the preemption statute so that cities could pass their own regulations.

“The Supreme Court ruling today is a stark reminder that local governments must have the ability to … keep their own businesses and residents safe,” Durkan said.

“I hope the Washington state legislature and Governor would consider a special session to address the wave of gun violence facing our state,” she added.

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