EDMONDS — The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously affirmed a state Court of Appeals opinion that the city of Edmonds ordinance regarding safe gun storage is pre-empted by state law.
The Edmonds law, passed in 2018, 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 2021, a three-judge state appeals panel ruled unanimously that a 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 2018. Unsafe firearm storage was made a crime, and potentially a felony, under the state RCW 9.41.360.
The city argued that because the gun storage ordinance does not apply to guns in the owner’s possession, it is not pre-empted by state law. Thursday’s ruling notes the Legislature has limited local firearm regulation for decades, citing the pre-emption statute. Under state law, said the ruling, the state “fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation.”
The Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
“We decline to limit the preemption statute to firearms’ transactions and active use,” the ruling states. “That limitation is simply not consistent with the words of the statute as a whole. … The key question is whether the ordinance regulates firearms — not whether it regulates firearm transactions or active use.”
Brett Bass, a National Rifle Association-certified firearms instructor and safety officer, is one of three residents who challenged the city law with the assistance of the NRA and the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, in the case known as Bass v. City of Edmonds.
“This is a great victory for the principle of state preemption,” SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb said in a statement.
Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson said the Supreme Court’s denial of local government’s right to protect residents from gun violence “feels barbaric.” He continued, “safe storage of firearms saves lives.”
Edmonds City Council member Laura Johnson’s kids have lost two friends in separate shootings, both involving a teenager with access to an unsecured firearm.
“Our children are growing up under the shadow of gun violence and school shootings,” she told The Daily Herald.
“If those adult gun owners had simply secured their weapons,” Johnson said, “these deaths would have been prevented and their friends would be young adults today.”
She said then, as a 15-year-old high school sophomore, she was part of the “mass-shooting generation.”
“Each time I enter a new classroom, I must consider where I can hide, where the nearest exit is, what objects are available to throw to protect myself, and how to save a classmate from bleeding out,” she wrote. “Instead of passing laws to reduce gun violence and protect students, those elected to represent us have chosen to ignore the issue and have put the burden of protection on the students and teachers. We are tired of being scared for our safety and lawmakers not fixing things to protect us.”
The Edmonds ordinance was born from conversations following a mass shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School. It was drafted by Nelson during his tenure as council president in 2018.
“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,” Nelson said in a statement in February 2021. “There is no dispute that safe storage of firearms saves lives.”
A month after the Edmonds law passed in 2018, the NRA and Second Amendment Foundation, along with three residents, sued to block the ordinance, arguing it violated a state law intended to pre-empt local governments from enacting their own regulations related to the possession of firearms.
The city law took effect in March 2019, but Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris blocked its enforcement in October 2019. The city appealed.
In February 2021, a state appeals panel ruled unanimously that the city ordinance is superseded by state law.
The city, in March 2021, petitioned the high court to review that decision and a majority agreed to do so.
Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.