EDMONDS — Some Edmonds City Council members are looking for ways to encourage responsible gun ownership after the state’s high court threw out a city gun storage law — though their options may be limited to voluntary safety programs.
In April, Supreme Court justices ruled the Edmonds ordinance was preempted by state law. The city must repeal its ordinance and the council may do so July 26.
During a council committee meeting Monday, Councilmember Laura Johnson said she didn’t want to come out “empty handed.” She said she recognized the ordinance needed to be repealed, but said she feels the City Council still has a role in responding to rising gun violence.
Her daughters both know somebody killed by another child who had access to an unsecured weapon.
“This is personal to me,” Johnson said. Public safety is one of the subjects handled by the committee.
But there’s not much the council can do, Edmonds city attorney Jeff Taraday told the committee.
“There is no aspect of firearm regulation that is left to the cities,” he said. “Basically the state has preempted the entire field and until the state Legislature changes that law, there is nothing left for cities to regulate in the realm of firearms.”
The Edmonds law required people to secure guns kept at home and in vehicles. Gun owners could be subject to a fine of up to $10,000 if an at-risk person or a child got a hold of an unsecured firearm.
But the city never had a chance to enforce its law.
Just a few weeks after its adoption in 2018, three residents filed a lawsuit challenging the city rule with the assistance of the National Rifle Association and the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation. The suit, Bass v. City of Edmonds, was ruled on by the Snohomish County Superior Court, the state Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court.
The high court’s April ruling didn’t change much in the area of gun storage.
That’s because in 2018, voters passed Initiative 1639, which made a number of changes to Washington’s firearm laws. One provision which went into effect in 2019 made it possible to charge gun owners with a felony if someone prohibited from possessing a gun uses an unsecured firearm to injure or kill someone.
The new law doesn’t require a gun “be stored in a particular place or in a particular way,” according to the state Office of the Attorney General. In that way it is weaker than what Edmonds tried to roll out.
“Here we are elected officials,” Johnson said, “and our hands are tied.”
Councilmembers Johnson and Susan Paine said they would support creating a work group to look at ways to create a “safer” environment in Edmonds.
Mayor Mike Nelson said amid his frustration with the Supreme Court’s decision, he has been looking at what the city can do. In June, he announced a partnership between the city and Be SMART for Kids. The police department will conduct gun storage safety training for the community through the program, Nelson said.
The city also received a state grant to provide 300 gun locks to Edmonds residents. Those are available for pickup at the Edmonds police station.
According to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, research shows the risk of suicide among teens decreases when guns are stored safely. And over three-fourths of school shooters under 18 years old access an unsecured gun from their own home or that of a relative or friend.
“Taking these simple steps can really make a big difference,” Nelson said. But, he said, it’s not enough.
In 2018, a teenager shot and killed another Edmonds teenager after finding a .44-caliber revolver in a dresser at a friend’s apartment.
In 2005, 564 people died by guns in the state of Washington, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, that number topped 700. In 2020, it was 864.
“If you look at all the things that are regulated in our society, this is the one item that there is just like nothing,” he said. “No community is safe. We see it.”
Paine and Johnson have been asking state lawmakers for help.
Earlier this month, Senate Bill 5078, sponsored by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, went into effect. It makes it illegal in Washington to make, sell, distribute or import a firearm magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
He said with rising gun violence, there’s been, and will be more conversations around gun control.
Congress passed a bipartisan bill earlier this year that provides money to states to help enforce red flag laws, like Washington’s extreme risk protection orders. He expects the state Legislature will also look at how to strengthen the existing programs.
Edmonds City Council members have approached Liias about what can be done locally.
He said he believes the Legislature could reexamine state preemption. Sometimes it makes sense to have a consistent statewide policy, he said.
“But when it comes to enhanced measures, like safe storage,” Liias said, “I think that the law should be more flexible.”