The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night voted 4-3 to appeal an October ruling by Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris that invalidated part of an Edmonds’ ordinance requiring that residents safely lock up their firearms or face a fine.
Edmonds’ two-part gun storage measure, approved by the council in July 2018, requires citizens to lock up their guns and allows fines ranging 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.
Farris ruled Oct. 18 that while the City of Edmonds can’t tell people how to store their guns, it can fine gun owners whose firearms are possessed or used by unauthorized persons.
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 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.
Introducing a motion Tuesday night to appeal Farris’s latest ruling, Councilmember Tom Mesaros said the Edmonds law “is not about gun rights. This is about safety and public safety. I would just regret reading something in the news about a child in Edmonds that lost their life due to the careless storage of a firearm. I think we should pursue it for the safety of our city.”
Councilmember Kristiana Johnson spoke against the appeal, stating she believed that Judge Farris was correct in ruling that Edmonds’ law violates the state’s preemption statute. “I believe we are a creature of the state,” Johnson said. “We only get those rights and authorities granted to us from the state. It is a public safety issue and that’s the role of the state Legislature, and I believe that we should not appeal this case. I am 100% for safe storage of guns but I do not think this is the best way to go about it.”
Councilmember Dave Teitzel also said he opposed going forward with the appeal. At the time the city approved its own safe storage law, a proposed statewide gun safety measure — Initiative 1639 — had not yet qualified for the ballot. But that initiative did indeed appear before voters and was approved — so Edmonds no longer needs its own ordinance, Teitzel said. “That initiative has provisions for safe gun storage, it has provisions for enhanced background checks, it has provisions for restrictions on assault rifles, and I wholeheartedly support all of those measures. We do need common sense gun laws in this state and I think 1639 does that,” Teitzel said.
Also speaking against appealing was Councilmember Neil Tibbott, who said he agreed that the state has authority over the matter. “I would like to see the state law have an opportunity to work, I would like to see citizens have an opportunity to abide by the rules of that and see what happens.” Tibbott also asked how much time the city was spending on defending the measure in court, outside of the pro bono services the city is receiving from Everytown for Gun Safety and Summit Law Group of Seattle. City Attorney Jeff Taraday replied that he does attend the court hearings and monitor the progress of the case “but it’s not a significant burden on my time.”
Offering strong statements in support of appealing the ruling, in addition to Mesaros, were Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis and Mike Nelson.
“The purpose of this law is to prevent gun violence specifically for children,” said Nelson, the original sponsor of the gun safety ordinance. “For every day we wait, another child is shot and killed.” Nelson also noted that Initiative 1639 and the Edmonds ordinance “are different.” The Edmonds law requires gun owners “to safely secure their firearm when it’s not in use to prevent a child from getting access and hurting and killing someone. The key word here is prevent.” Initiative 1639, meanwhile, “encourages someone to secure their firearm,” he said. “It does not require it.”
Among other items Tuesday, the council also discussed the results of an online parking survey the city conducted in late summer. You can see the results of the survey here, but look for a story on it in the next few days. And councilmembers agreed on next steps for reviewing the mayor’s proposed 2020 budget. The goal is to submit amendments by the Nov. 19 council meeting and all follow-up questions to staff by Nov. 26. The hope is to have the final budget approved by Dec. 10.
— By Teresa Wippel