Brett Bass, an Edmonds resident, legally challenged the city’s ordinance about gun storage. On Monday, a state appeals panel ruled the city cannot enforce its ordinance. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Brett Bass, an Edmonds resident, legally challenged the city’s ordinance about gun storage. On Monday, a state appeals panel ruled the city cannot enforce its ordinance. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Appeals court says Edmonds can’t enforce safe storage gun law

State law “unambiguously” pre-empts the city from enacting its own firearm rules, the panel concludes.

EDMONDS — The city lost another legal round Monday in its attempt to enforce a statute telling residents how to store their guns.

A three-judge state appeals panel ruled unanimously that the city ordinance “regardless of its arguable benefits to public safety” is “unambiguously” pre-empted by state law and provisions of Initiative 1639, a gun safety measure passed by voters in November 2018.

“My reaction is one of relief. It’s nice to see the rule of law still matters,” said Brett Bass, one of three residents who challenged the city law with the assistance of the National Rifle Association and the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation.

Monday’s ruling affirms an October 2019 decision by Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris preventing the ordinance’s enforcement.

An appeal to the state Supreme Court could be the next step for the city.

“We’re looking at (the ruling) and what we’re going to do next.” said Councilwoman Adrienne Fraley-Monillas. “Any time you lose in court it is a disappointment. If this ordinance may have saved a child’s life because a parent locked away a gun it is worth it.”

Bass would like the legal journey to end here.

“I would hope they would decide this isn’t worth the energy,” he said. “I don’t see how this benefits them or their citizens.”

The Edmonds law, which took effect in March 2019, required gun owners to keep their firearms locked up and inaccessible to others, especially children. It did not apply to firearms carried by or under the control of owners. It did apply to weapons kept at home and in vehicles.

In addition, under the statute, if anyone not permitted to use the gun, such as a child or a thief, got access to the weapon, the owner could be held civilly liable and fined up to $1,000. If an unauthorized person used the firearm to commit a crime or injure themselves or others, the gun owner could be fined again up to $10,000.

The measure was passed in July 2018.

The next month, Bass, Swan Seaberg and Curtis McCullough filed for an injunction contending state law preempts local governments from enacting their own regulations related to the possession of firearms.

In the lawsuit, they point to the plain language of the statute which begins, “The state of Washington hereby fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state.”

In October 2019, Farris mostly agreed, ordering the city to not enforce the storage aspect of the ordinance. She ruled, however, that the plaintiffs had no standing to challenge the portion of the city law covering unauthorized access to the weapons. Farris allowed them to amend their complaint to demonstrate why they would have standing, which they did.

The city appealed Farris’ ruling, arguing the state law concerning firearm rules is ambiguously worded and does not expressly ban cities from imposing safe storage restrictions such as those spelled out in the Edmonds law.

“We disagree and conclude that the legislature’s express preemption of ‘the entire field of firearms regulation’ is unambiguous and necessarily extends to regulations of the storage of firearms,” wrote Judge Beth Andrus of the Division 1 Court of Appeals.

Justices also pointed out the voter-approved initiative tackled the issue. It contains language making it a crime to store or leave a firearm “in a location where the person knows, or reasonably should know, that a prohibited person may gain access to the firearm,” and may misuse the weapon, according to the ruling.

Bass appreciated the panel’s straightforward conclusions.

“It’s nice to get a win,” he said.

Mayor Mike Nelson, who drafted the ordinance when he served as council president, issued a statement Monday committing to continued pursuit of gun safety measures.

“In Edmonds, three years ago a 16-year-old playing Russian roulette shot and killed a 17-year-old girl. This month a 13-year-old boy in Auburn shot his 15-year-old sister while playing with a gun,” he said. “There is no dispute that safe storage of firearms saves lives.”

Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

This story has been modified to correct the title of Judge Beth Andrus.

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