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