State Supreme Court deals final blow to Edmonds gun control ordinance

Mayor Mike Nelson

In a unanimous decision Thursday morning, the Washington State Supreme Court issued a major defeat to the City of Edmonds, denying the city’s petition to overrule last year’s Appeals Court decision that effectively invalidated the city’s much-contested gun storage and unauthorized use ordinance..

The ordinance, 4120, addresses two functional issues. The first mandates that gun owners safely store firearms under lock and key (section 5.26.020), and the second addresses and provides penalties for unauthorized use of firearms (section 5.26.030). The latter is intended to address such things as unsecured firearms being used by children, being stolen or being used in a crime.

Proposed by then-City Council President Mike Nelson in July 2018, Ordinance 4120 was subsequently enacted by a 5-to-1 vote of the council, the sole nay vote being cast by Councilmember Kristiana Johnson. Councilmember Neil Tibbott was on vacation and unavailable by phone for the vote..

Passage of the ordinance set the stage for a flurry of legal actions, rulings and appeals pitting gun rights advocates against the city. Opponents maintained that the ordinance was illegal, in that it violated the Washington State Preemption Statute (RCW 9.41.290), which gives the state exclusive authority over  firearms regulations statewide. The City of Edmonds argued both that the preemption statute does not apply in this case, and that even if it did, the plaintiffs “lacked standing” — a technical argument meaning that they would suffer no harm should the ordinance move forward — and as a result had no stake in the outcome and therefore cannot file suit.

In early 2021, the case had worked its way to the State Appeals Court, which ruled in February of that year that the Edmonds law was indeed in violation of the Washington State Preemption statute. That ruling also found that the plaintiffs have standing to challenge both the storage and unauthorized use provisions of the Edmonds ordinance. In its Feb. 21 written ruling, the court maintained that state law “unambiguously preempts” both the storage and unauthorized use provisions of the city’s ordinance, effectively throwing out the entire Edmonds law. (For additional details and a summary history/timeline of the various legal actions leading up to the Appeals Court ruling, see our previous story).

In response to that 2021 ruling, the city immediately filed a petition with the Washington State Supreme Court, asking it to overrule the Appeals Court decision (see full text of the city’s petition here).

But in its unanimous ruling handed down on Thursday, the Supreme Court concluded as follows:

“We hold that the plaintiffs have standing and that this ordinance is preempted by RCW 9.41.290. We affirm the Court of Appeals and remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.” (See the full ruling here)

As the original sponsor of the ordinance, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson in a statement Thursday called the Supreme Court decision “barbaric,” stressing the issue comes down to protecting Edmonds citizens from gun violence.

“The repeated failure of the state and federal government to implement these common sense safety measures to protect our children from gun violence and then to have the State Supreme Court deny local governments this right feels barbaric,” Nelson said. “Safe storage of firearms saves lives.

“Every day, grown adults leave their loaded firearms laying around their homes for their young children and grandchildren to see and use with tragic results,” he continued.  “Protecting the health and safety of our residents is the most important function of local government. Our city will continue to pursue all means necessary to protect our children and residents from gun violence.”

— By Larry Vogel

  1. Nice waste of our city tax dollars. Sorry Mayor , the courts decided the law is more important than your opinion. Funny how that works.

    1. No tax payer dollars were spent on the defense of this case. Legal counsel was provided by Everytown. Just wanted to clear that up since this exact comment appears every time this story is covered.

      1. Heather who pays for the mayor’s salary? Who pays the council and city staff salaries? At the very least their time was spent and we pay for that time aren’t are judges paid with our tax dollars? So it is a lie that no tax dollars were spent. I know lawyers don’t work for free and I am sure it cost a few hundred thousand of dollars to appeal to the supreme court where did that funding come from? Don’t you think all that time and money might of been better spent on gun safety education free gun locks or safes? I guarentee it would have had more benefit than appealing this. Seems the mayor has great passion for this subject why hasn’t he spent any time and effort even money promoting it within the city?

        1. The funding for the defense came from Everytown.

          Just in case you’re unfamiliar with what pro bono means, here’s the definition.

          As far as your other opinions go, the education component around safe storage is definitely important and I think that should be spearheaded by the police department, along with more education about Extreme Risk Protection Orders and what all I-1639 entails. That’s important community education and engagement.

      2. Heather thanks for the reply so you do acknowledge some cost has been burdened by the tax payers and your previous statement was a lie? I know what pro bono is and that isn’t the case here everytown is primarily funded by Michael Bloomberg a multi billionaire who spends a lot of money on political activism the other law firm was likely hired by everytown. So yes the lawyers got paid. Doesn’t the police department fall under the purview of the city that the mayor runs? So again if this is so important why hasn’t the mayor taken steps to address it?

  2. How many people have been hurt by unsafely stored guns in Edmonds? How many state wide? Not many would be the answer sure there are accidents tragedies like with most everything. How many Edmonds residents have died in traffic accidents? More than unsafely stored guns I am sure, where is the special Edmonds laws to prevent those? Want to talk barbaric. How about drug overdose deaths I am sure there are more of those also what special laws does Edmonds have to prevent those? My concern is all the wasted time and effort to fight for something that has very few people hurt from especially when there are other things we could have done that actually would make a difference. Total people killed from all guns last year about 20 thousand total people killed from drugs 5 times higher 100 thousand. Just seems the mayor’s priorities aren’t in the right place.

  3. The money the city has spent on this could of been used to fix our streets and sidewalks but we must have a surplus .

    1. Since you were a plaintiff surely you understand the city didn’t pay for defense? So are you just spreading misinformation for fun or do you truly not understand the case of which you were a part?

  4. The Mayor is an oxygen thief. Great waste money and time. If he were still practicing law he may be subject to malpractice charges.

  5. Being upset about the outcome is one thing. Suggesting that after two failures the city might do more is lunacy. Sometimes you just need to realize when you’ve lost, and this is one of those times. Doesn’t matter what your stance on the topic is at this point. I fail to understand how when this has clearly been deemed not legal, the city would spend another minute on this issue when there are far more pressing (and real) safety issues than the zero people who have been killed due to unsafe storage since this topic was started.

  6. Oh, all powerful Mayor Nelson, where is the love? What a disappointment and waste of time. This matter needs to go to the US Supreme Court because you are the King of Edmonds! Doesn’t our State Supreme Court know you are all powerful and the reigning sovereign of our small town!

    What the citizens want don’t matter. It’s all about what Mike Nelson wants!

  7. Heather may not understand that any time city staff or elected officials spent interacting with attorneys or even discussing or authorizing appeals at council meetings was spending tax dollars unless it was not during work hours. A public information request for correspondence, emails, texts and phone calls might be very interesting.

  8. Gun safety is important. I keep mine locked up and unloaded because I don’t want somebody getting ahold of a gun and doing something terrible. I also keep my car in a garage to protect against unauthorized access or theft. In both cases I choose MY level of risk. If you are affected by something somebody else does with my property please realize it wasn’t intentional. I don’t actively find ways to aid criminals. If somebody chooses to break the universally held law, “Don’t kill people”, do you think a trivial gun law is going to change their mind?

    I would like to see the NRA shift their image from a gun proliferation organization to a gun safety organization. “Yes, own guns. Enjoy shooting, but not at each other. Here is how to limit accidents…” And stop hounding me for money every month. Worse than public broadcasting.

  9. I agree with Mayor Nelson that safe storage of firearms is hugely important. It wouldn’t take long to compile a list of tragedies enabled by careless gun owners who allowed their weapon to fall into the wrong hands. Locally, Jaylen Fryberg used his father’s gun to kill 4 students at Marysville-Pilchuck high school. A list would be long and sad.

    But the Edmonds ordinance was doomed from the start. State law was and is crystal clear~ RCW 9.41.290 reads in part “The state of Washington hereby fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state, including the registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation of firearms…”

    As I recall the story, this law was drafted by the gun lobby to keep local government out of the gun safety arena. And it’s hardcore black letter law, nothing ambiguous or mushy that would allow the Supreme Court or any court to find the Edmonds ordinance lawful and enforceable.

    It’s unfortunate that so much energy (and other people’s money…) was spent on such a doomed effort. As some commenters have suggested, better to spend money on gun safes and strongboxes for gun owners who can’t afford them.

  10. Good! I remember how our Mayor decided unilaterally, like a king, that people couldn’t carry or possess firearms early on in the pandemic. Nice one, Mike. You had a chance to shine and you blew it.

    American citizens have the absolute and God-given right to self-defense using whatever are the commonly known weapons of the day. Right now that goes up to what the Left calls “assault rifles.” Who knows? In the future, that may be replaced with railguns or something else. Mike and every other tyrant under the sun goes after the right to self-defense first.

    I wonder why?

  11. I feel as an Edmonds citizen I must add my thoughts on such a serious subject. The law is the law and the courts have spoken.

    Guns of course are inanimate objects as are kitchen knives and anything else you can identify to inflict harm. Yes, guns are more efficient at killing yet guns need a human to enact the act.

    My point is not guns. My point is people. Liberals who try to enact ways to restrict or enforce certain actions are meaningless because they do not succeed. People act as they do based on… I leave it to the reader to decide.

    Our country possesses who knows maybe 350 million guns? Nobody knows. Think about that number. Daily news reports mass shootings that I hate to see. But the overwhelming majority of gun owners are responsible. Let’s shift our attention to the 100,000 drug overdose deaths each year.
    Mayor Nelson, hear ye hear ye!

  12. One aspect of this that I believe important to point out is the following remand by the State Supreme Court:

    “We remand this matter to the trial court to make any corrections necessary such that only documents that have been properly sealed under article I, section 10 are sealed, and to inform our clerk’s office of any corresponding corrections to the record on appeal that should be made.”

    Edmonds City Officials on occasion advise citizens that there is nothing they can do, that the citizen must take the matter to Court. This case shows that the trial court can make mistakes that need to be corrected.

    As such, I think it can sometimes be wrong for City Officials to tell citizens to go to court. I believe some issues can be easily resolved without burdening our courts. I believe all it takes is willpower to address an obvious wrong.

    These are my beliefs based on my own experiences with Edmonds City government. I realize others might see it differently and I will try to respect that.

    I wonder if it would help if the first few sentences of this Ruling be made into a plaque to hang in City Council Chambers:

    “Under our system of divided government, many elected bodies hold legislative power, including elected city councils. These councils, however, must legislate within constitutional constraints. One of those constraints is that city ordinances must not “conflict with general laws” that have been enacted by the people of our state by initiative or by our state legislature. WASH. CONST. art. XI, § 11. Constitutional general laws that state they explicitly occupy the field, that implicitly occupy the field, or that are otherwise inconsistent with local laws preempt local lawmaking.”

    1. Thanks for this; very thoughtful and well-considered. The Mayor and the City Council, as well as Everytown, were hoping for a liberal/progressive-oriented court to overturn well-established State law that preempts the Mayor’s and Council’s actions. The Mayor’s accusation of “barbarism” is taken personally; I hope that he wears the electoral response.

  13. Obviously this is a topic on which many are passionate. And there are good reasons for the passions on both sides.
    But there is really no reason for our City Council to waste it’s time attempting to weigh in on issues that are clearly outside the City’s purview. Many, many folks weighed in at the time this was being considered saying that the City has no authority on this point, the issue is preempted by the State and the Feds. And despite some wise advice not to waste time on it for that very reason, the Council pushed ahead.
    In case you were wondering, the Washington Supreme Court has no conservatives or “gun rights activists” on the bench. And yet all of those justices just agreed that the City has no, and can have no, authority on this issue. And the Court ruled that way because the law is incredibly clear. It was before when all this came up.
    Please, current Council, stick to City of Edmonds issues. And if you feel passionately about things the City cannot control, please lobby your representatives in government on your own time. Please.

  14. This comment section gives me hope. Gun safety is absolutely necessary but the way Mike went about promoting it was ridiculous. There’s so much crime outside of gun storage issues that he could’ve addressed but instead tried to be a dictator in people’s personal affairs.

  15. Ken Reidy, as always, your comments are spot on! Let’s consider those of John Adams, second president of the United States:
    “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale does through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to govern any other.”
    While “leader” like Mike Nelson would like to circumvent the Constitution, perhaps thinking he (or modern man) knows so much more now, the answer lies instead in returning to morality. Our Constitution was created by men who understood the potential darkness of man because they studied diligently the history and forms of previous governments. Nothing can stand without morality.
    All firearms come with locks and keys. Anything can be used to take a human life or torment. Morality needs to be brought back to schools, homes, churches, society, and political leaders. That cannot be legislated. Criminals act criminally. People with no moral basis act criminally. Laws will not change that. Training and heart transformation will.

    1. Thank Tamara. Thanks also for the reminder that I need to get back to reading David McCullough’s biography of John Adams!

      I’m not sure, but I think the 2022 City Council has a responsibility to immediately repeal Ordinance 4120. I’ve emailed them and asked they add such repeal to Council’s agenda for the April 26th Council Meeting.

      I’ve also asked if a review for possible violations of Oath of Office will take place.

      Mayor Mike Nelson’s “barbaric” comments makes me concerned that still may not appreciate Constitutional general law. I hope Mayor Nelson will apologize to the State Supreme Court for his “barbaric” comment. We all abhor gun violence, but the Supreme Court has duties. They were merely performing their duties.

  16. I’m all for most of your gun rights; usage, storage, how many, etc. But every gun owner should be held 100% accountable should a tragedy occur. Fines, jail time and civil court judgements, should be, without a doubt, the gun owner’s responsibility.

    1. Would you apply the same vicarious liability you urge on gun owners to car owners who have their cars stolen and used in crimes to harm others? Should car owners be “100% accountable should a tragedy occur”? I would suggest not and that circumstances should matter when you are talking about secondary liability. The car owner who locks his car but, still has it stolen should not be liable for the criminal acts of the thief while using the stolen car. Same for legal gun owners who are victims of home break-ins and theft of their gun(s).
      Let’s hold the real criminals liable, not the victims.

  17. Finally, this virtue signaling exercise is over. I am all for responsible gun ownership but, this outcome was totally predictable. It has been black letter law for over 50 years that only the State Legislature may pass laws regulating firearm ownership and use in the state, under what is known as the “preemption doctrine”. The reason for the doctrine is so that the gun laws are consistent throughout Washington and in compliance with citizens’ Right to bear Arms as stated in Art. 1, Sec. 24. of the Washing State Constitution.

    Perhaps, with our newly constituted City Council, we will avoid passage of unlawful ordinances that violate State Law and only serves as posturing at Mayor Nelson’s urging.

  18. What Happens in my home, is not anyone’s business but mine. Safe storage is what a responsible person will automatically comply too; although that too is dependent on the circumstances. With the uptick in crime many people feel they have to have protection accessible.

    The crime in Edmonds is not declining it’s getting worse. Why isn’t the Mayor trying to make a difference in his own community by keeping citizens safe? The Mayor only come out to discuss his far left Agenda to bully council or yell how racist Edmonds is. Well this White Irish, French, Cherokee Woman feels it’s time for the Mayor to resign.

  19. A “law” telling us to lock up our guns after use is almost like a “law” telling us to wash our dishes after use. Common sense number one, and just plain obvious good behavior number two.

    Ultra liberals solving gun problems will be no more effective than ultra conservatives solving abortion problems. It’s all just feel good virtue signaling around trying to control human behavior from one’s personal point of view. We so often can’t control our own impulses and human failures, so we try to control others as a feel good substitute I guess.

  20. I wish we would stop poisoning the wells of other people’s ideas by labeling them “virtue signaling.” If your idea clashes with mine, my calling it “virtue signaling” is simply shorthand for saying, “You’re not sincere. You don’t believe this. You’re just trying to look good.” Its a cheap way of scoring without actually saying something or engaging the other person in any meaningful way. It’s disrespectful. Can we please avoid the phrase?

    Some of us actually believe what we say and express sincerely held ideas, and aren’t interested in “signaling” anything.

    1. The fact that I hold my personal views “sincerely” doesn’t make me right or virtuous or in a proper position to tell others how to view their world. Where we all have a common need, we need rules to make those needs met for everyone or “grease the skids” so to speak. The minute you hear “mine is the one true God,” or mine is the only good government,” you are dealing with a know it all bigot – Left or Right leaning – and it’s best not to encourage them, in my “sincerely” held view.

  21. Perhaps I will when people like Commandant Nelson stop referring to judicial opinions (such as the Washington Supreme Ct’s opinion (unanimous) that shot down (pun intended) his attempt to undermine my 2nd and 4th Constitutional rights) as ‘barbaric”. BTW, if Nelson is still a lawyer it is potentially troubling for him ethically to refer to the Court in that way.

  22. Gun safety is important, and I personally think that guns should be locked up, but by saying that “there ought to be a law” for basic common sense, takes away from the responsibility of functioning adults. There’s nothing stopping the Edmonds city government from placing PSA reminders, or stating this safety solution; there’s no need for a law.

  23. If the point of this effort was to truly increase safety in our community regarding guns, then how about teaching gun safety in schools? We teach kids about sex and the consequences of it. Why not gun safety classes?

    Right now for most kids, they only see guns being used in movies, where gun safety rules are rarely exhibited let alone explained. Let’s give kids a better chance of being safe should they encounter a gun in the real world by educating them about guns.

    And if families don’t want their kids to learn about gun safety, let them opt out of the classes just like they can with comprehensive sex education. Instead of making guns mysterious, taboo objects, let’s teach kids about them.

    1. Actually, there would be a lot of bi-partisan support for subsidized gun safety courses for new gun owners. I have a family friend who teaches gun courses, and it sounds very useful.

      We would have near total agreement on the merits of that plan from all sides of the aisle. It is too bad that we spend so much time on pointless partisan bickering and not nearly enough on mutually beneficial win-win efforts.

  24. Rebecca and Evan are right on the mark here. Teaching responsibility and competence make way more sense than stupid unenforceable laws when it comes to gun ownership and use. When I was in High School P.E. we had an archery unit, so why not a small arms unit in our modern era? Ask the NRA and manufacturers to fund and sponsor it. (Allowing decenting parents to opt out, without a stated reason of course – freedom first). Education based on true facts is the only real answer to most of our problems.

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