Edmonds gun owners and NRA sue city over safe-storage law

Firearms in the home must be “unusable” to all but the owner or those they’ve authorized to use it.

EDMONDS — Brett Bass is a firearms expert and works at the Bellevue Gun Club teaching others how to safely and accurately shoot pistols and rifles.

At home, in Edmonds, the weapons he owns are locked in a 600-pound safe at all times, except at night, when he removes one rifle to keep bedside for self-defense.

The 35-year-old marksman believes a person who misuses a firearm should be prosecuted. But he opposes an Edmonds city ordinance passed last month requiring gun owners to lock up their weapons at home or face potential fines.

And he’s joined the National Rifle Association in suing the city to get it tossed out.

“They don’t have the legal authority to do it,” Bass said. “I think the City Council is knowingly engaging in activism in violation of the law.”

Swan Seaberg also knows guns.

A longtime resident, the 76-year-old was qualified as an expert with rifles while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. At his Edmonds home, he said he keeps his pistol in a safe and a shotgun and rifle “hidden away.”

He testified against the ordinance in public hearings and didn’t hesitate to join in the legal fight, which began last Tuesday.

“My point is, how can you be considered guilty of anything if someone breaks into your home and steals something? They committed the crime so why am I in trouble?” he said. “Does the city want to buy me a safe for my rifles? They are expensive.”

The Edmonds ordinance, passed by a 5-1 vote July 24, takes effect later this month, with enforcement set to begin in January. It is largely identical to the safe-storage gun law enacted in Seattle on July 18. Everett also has adopted new restrictions.

The Edmonds law requires firearms be safely secured and “rendered unusable” to anyone other than the owner or those they’ve authorized to use it. It does not apply to firearms carried by or under the control of owners. It does apply to weapons kept at home and in vehicles.

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

Any fines collected by Edmonds will be used to buy lock boxes to give to residents.

“We’re not asking for much here,” Councilman Thomas Mesaros said in the meeting before the vote. “We’re just asking them to secure the weapons and the firearms that they have so that people who are not authorized to use them cannot break into their house and use them.”

Cities don’t have a lot of authority for regulating guns, he acknowledged.

“But there are some windows there,” he said, and he believes the safe storage ordinance falls within them.

That’s not what Bass, Seaberg, the NRA and the Bellevue-based gun rights group called The Second Amendment Foundation contend in the lawsuit.

They accuse the city of violating a state law intended to pre-empt local governments from enacting their own regulations related to the possession of firearms. They are seeking an injunction preventing the start of enforcement.

The new mandates “are illegal and legally unenforceable,” the suit reads.

“The rule of preemption could not be clearer: the city of Edmonds (like any municipality in the state of Washington) is not permitted to pass laws that target the possession of firearms through any means.”

Edmonds City Council President Mike Nelson, a gun owner and sponsor of the new law, said he understands their arguments but thinks the city acted within its authority.

While the threat of a legal fight loomed throughout consideration of the new law, Nelson said, he never contemplated pausing his effort.

“We are not going to stop our work to prevent gun violence and save lives,” he said. “We have been waiting. I am not going to wait another minute.”

The NRA and Second Amendment Foundation filed a similar lawsuit against Seattle last month in King County Superior Court. The city’s response is due to the court Aug. 30, with a trial set for July, according to Seattle officials.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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