Evergreen State Democrats have managed to push some of their gun control measures past a first legislative deadline, while another—and critically important one for Washington state gun owners—appears to have once again died in committee.
If there is good news for Washingtonians, it is the survival of state preemption. It did not move out of committee last Friday, an important deadline, meaning it is probably dead for another year.
According to Crosscut, a left-leaning publication that has served the Puget Sound area for several years, mayors of several communities, including Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, are not a happy bunch. He was joined by the mayors of Bellingham, Everett, Kenmore, Kirkland, Olympia and Redmond. Harrell went on the warpath against preemption from almost the moment he took office more than a year ago, falsely claiming Washington was one of the “few” states with such a statute.
In reality, Washington’s law served as the model for many, if not most, of the 40-plus preemption statutes now in effect across the country. The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms slammed Harrell for trying to create what amounts to a myth.
During a January hearing on House Bill 1178, opponents reminded state lawmakers that preemption brings uniformity to gun regulations across the state. It places sole authority for gun regulation in the hands of the legislature, which appears to be where lawmakers believe it should remain, at least for the time being.
According to the Crosscut article, the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. David Hackney (D-Tukwila), explained the lack of momentum by suggesting Democrat leadership “prioritized other…proposals.”
And that’s where the future of Washington gun control could collide with both the federal and state constitutions, and how the federal courts decide to interpret the Supreme Court’s ruling last June in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. That ruling, according to the Associated Press, is “dividing judges and sowing confusion over what firearm restrictions can remain on the books.”
That report explained, “The Supreme Court’s so-called Bruen decision changed the test that lower courts had long used for evaluating challenges to firearm restrictions. Judges should no longer consider whether the law serves public interests like enhancing public safety, the justices said.”
Henceforth, courts must look at “historical tradition” rather than use a “means-end scrutiny” test essentially invented by the lower courts following the 2010 ruling in McDonald v. City of Chicago, which tended to always defer to modern “public interest” considerations.
This will be the legal speed bump the state will face if the legislature in Olympia passes:
House Bill 1240, the controversial measure to ban so-called “assault rifles.” This has been the goal of Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson—both far left Democrats—for the past several years. According to Crosscut, the legislation “wouldn’t bar possession of such weapons by those who already own them, and it appears to allow some small-caliber semiautomatic rifles to still be sold in Washington.”
But wait. In 2018, voters passed Initiative 1639, which includes a definition of a “semiautomatic assault rifle”—a firearm that former Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich repeatedly told reporters doesn’t exist—which states “’Semiautomatic assault rifle’ means any rifle which utilizes a portion of the energy of a firing cartridge to extract the fired cartridge case and chamber the next round, and which requires a separate pull of the trigger to fire each cartridge.” This definition applies to any self-loading rifle, regardless of caliber, ever manufactured anywhere on the planet.
Consistently overlooked by Washington anti-gunners is the fact that last December, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a lower court ruling upholding I-1639, and remanded the case back to the lower court “for further proceedings consistent the with the United State Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen.” This development was reported by Ammoland last Dec. 2.
House Bill 1143, which seeks to create a permit-to-purchase, will also likely face a federal court challenge if it becomes law. The Second Amendment Foundation, based in Bellevue, Wash., is leading a federal court challenge to a similar provision adopted by voters in neighboring Oregon last fall as part of anti-gun Measure 114. The argument against such permits is that the government cannot require citizens to obtain permission prior to exercising a constitutionally-protected fundamental right.
Senate Bill 5078 would allow lawsuits against the firearms industry over the misuse of guns by criminals, or for negligent accidents by people handling guns. If this is adopted, it will almost certainly face an immediate challenge by the firearms industry as a violation of the federal Protection in Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, signed into law by then-President George W. Bush.
Proponents of these bills claim they will reduce violent crime, when it has become obvious the opposite is likely true when one considers the inability of I-1639 (2018), its predecessor, Initiative 594 (2014), last year’s “high capacity magazine” ban passed by the Legislature, and Seattle’s infamous gun and ammunition tax.
Ammoland News has previously reported on this at length. Since anti-gunners started pushing increasingly restrictive gun laws in the state, the number of murders has climbed. In 2015, when Seattle adopted the gun/ammunition tax—with Harrell then on the city council—the city reported 26 murders, according to Seattle Police Department data. Last year saw the number of murders double, at 52, the department says.
That same year, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, Washington logged 209 homicides. In 2021, the most recent year for which FBI data is available, the state saw 325 murders.
Not surprisingly, membership at the Washington 2023 Legislative Action Group on Facebook has swollen to more than 12,000. In the Evergreen State, where there are nearly 700,000 active concealed pistol licenses and, by some estimates, somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million gun owners, the continuing effort by Democrats to ratchet down on gun rights is only widening the political divide.
About Dave Workman
Dave Workman is a senior editor at TheGunMag.com and Liberty Park Press, author of multiple books on the Right to Keep & Bear Arms, and formerly an NRA-certified firearms instructor.