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WA ban on sale of AR-15s and other semi-automatic rifles can go forward, judge rules

An assortment of AR-15 style rifles are seen on display on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, at Sharp Shooting Indoor Range & Gun Shop in Spokane, Wash.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)
By Claire Withycombe Seattle Times

OLYMPIA – A federal judge Tuesday denied an attempt to halt Washington’s new ban on the sale of AR-15s and other semi-automatic rifles.

The same late April day that Gov. Jay Inslee signed a ban on the sale of dozens of firearms, including AK-47s, AR-15s and M16s, the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation and other opponents filed a lawsuit challenging it.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan denied their move to block the law from being enforced. The plaintiffs had sought an injunction in early May.

In his ruling, Bryan pointed to a number of reasons why he was denying the motion, including that the law’s challengers hadn’t shown that an injunction was in the public interest.

“Considering the exceptional dangerousness of these weapons, the public interest in their regulation by the State far outweighs the Plaintiffs’ desire to purchase more assault weapons,” Bryan wrote. “In light of recent mass deaths caused by assailants using assault weapons, it is appropriate for governmental bodies to find ways to protect the public from dangerous weapons, within the limits of the Second Amendment.”

Even though Bryan rejected the request for an injunction, the lawsuit, and two others challenging the law, are ongoing.

Adam Kraut, executive director of the Second Amendment Foundation, said in an email that the law not being enjoined “prevents Washingtonians from being able to fully exercise their right to keep and bear arms.”

“We are currently reviewing our legal options to determine our pathway forward,” Kraut said.

In a written statement, Cody Wisniewski, senior attorney for constitutional litigation with the FPC Action Foundation, the foundation aligned with the Firearms Policy Coalition, which is one of the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, expressed disappointment with the ruling “but remain undeterred in our fight for and defense of the people’s natural right to self-defense.”

The law prohibits the sale and importation of certain firearms it classifies as assault weapons, but it doesn’t bar possession or inheritance.

Washington’s growing Democratic majority in the Legislature had sought a ban on such weapons for years.

Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson jointly requested the bill. Inslee said when he signed the bill into law that “these weapons of war, assault weapons, have no reason other than mass murder.”

Ferguson, who is running for governor, touted his record on defending Washington gun laws in court in a news release announcing the denial.

“We remain undefeated against the gun lobby in court,” Ferguson said in a statement. “This common-sense gun reform will save lives by restricting access to the preferred weapon of mass shooters.”