In the latest round of legal actions over Edmonds’ safe gun storage law, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris ruled on Friday that while the City of Edmonds cannot tell people how to store their guns, it can levy fines against gun owners whose firearms are possessed or used by unauthorized persons.
Proposed by then-City Council President Mike Nelson in July 2018, the measure was subsequently enacted by a 5-to-1 vote of the council with Councilmember Neil Tibbott on vacation and unavailable by phone.
The two-part measure first requires gun owners to lock up their guns when not in use; the second part mandates fines for gun owners whose firearms are possessed or used by unauthorized persons. Fines range from $1,000 for simple unauthorized possession to up to $10,000 if the gun is used in a crime or someone is hurt as a result of unauthorized access.
In August 2018 the National Rifle Association and Second Amendment Foundation joined with Edmonds residents Brett Bass, Curtis McCullough and Swan Seaberg to challenge the law in court. Their suit argued that the ordinance violates Washington State’s preemption statute, which grants exclusive authority for gun regulation in Washington to the State Legislature.
This was followed by a flurry of legal filings on both sides, with plaintiffs continuing to maintain that the Edmonds measure violates state law and should be struck down, and the City of Edmonds arguing to dismiss the suit on the basis that the plaintiffs “lacked standing,” a technical argument meaning that they would suffer no harm should the ordinance move forward and hence have no stake in the outcome and cannot file suit.
In March 2019 Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris denied the city’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiffs do indeed have standing, thus allowing the suit to proceed. In June 2019 the NRA and Second Amendment Foundation pulled out of the suit but continued to provide support to the remaining plaintiffs.
Judge Farris’s Friday ruling grants a partial victory to both sides. While she agreed with the plaintiffs that Edmonds safe storage violates the state’s preemption statute and granted a summary injunction enjoining the city from enforcing the storage section of the ordinance, she also ruled that the plaintiffs have no standing to challenge the section related to unauthorized access to firearms, leaving intact the fines that could be incurred by gun owners if a child, thief, or person under court order to not possess firearms gains access to their guns.
“We’re glad that the court rejected the challenge to the city’s unauthorized access provision, which will continue to provide Edmonds residents with strong incentives to securely store their firearms,” said Eric Tirschwell, litigation director for Everytown Law and co-counsel with the City of Edmonds. “However, we respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling on the enforcement of the city’s responsible storage ordinance, and we are discussing all legal options with city officials.”
The plaintiffs say that they would welcome an appeal.
“We expect an appeal, and quite frankly it will work in our favor,” said Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation. “We fully expect to win, and the higher up the chain it goes, the better precedent it will set for our work with other municipalities trying to do the same thing Edmonds did.
“The only reason the judge didn’t strike down the unauthorized possession provisions is that no one has been prosecuted under these yet and so no one has standing.” Gottlieb continued. “We’re honestly scratching our heads a bit, because if the main part of the law is taken down, the penalties will die along with it. As soon as anyone is charged, they’ll have standing, and the court will knock it down.”
But in Edmonds supporters remain encouraged that the unauthorized possession provisions remain.
“The trial court kept the most important part of our law intact — gun owners will be held responsible when a child gets a hold of a firearm and causes injury,” said Mike Nelson, original sponsor of the ordinance. “This is a significant step in the right direction in preventing gun violence. I am committed to preventing gun violence from reaching our schools, our streets, and our homes.”
Nelson also noted that he is “very excited that Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal has followed our lead here in Edmonds and recently introduced the Safe Gun Storage Act in Congress.”
— By Larry Vogel