EDMONDS, WA – When Brett Bass first read Edmonds City Ordinance 4120, requiring firearms to be stored in lockers, his immediate response was confusion.
“The brazen nature of the city government discussing the illegality of the measure and then passing it anyway was extremely frustrating,” Bass told the Lynnwood Times.
On July 24, 2018, the Edmonds City Council led by then Council President now Mayor Mike Nelson, passed Ordinance 4120 by a 5-1 vote requiring gun owners to secure firearms with a locking device.
Violations of the ordinance would range from $500 for anyone not permitted to use it gains access to the weapon, to a fine of $10,000 if the firearm is used to commit a crime, injure or cause death to themselves or others.
To view the ordinance in its entirety click here.
According to a Snohomish Health District report, Firearms in our Community, an estimated 34% of Washington adults had a firearm in their home in 2016 of which 53% of firearm owners reported securely storing their firearm(s).
Why the lawsuit?
It wasn’t the requirement to store the weapons in secure locking equipment that frustrated Bass. He is an advocate for and encourages all owners of firearms to diligently control access to them, owning a 600-lb gun safe himself in which his own firearms are stored. The problem he had with the ordinance was the “clear and wonton disregard for the decades-old preemption statue and the overly prescriptive nature of the regulation’s wording.”
“People should be diligent, responsible, and proactive in their storage for firearms and other potentially lethal means, but government should never be excused from violating the law in order to make a point,” Bass said. “Allocating funding for public service messaging around this topic is appropriate and useful; prohibitions enacted in defiance of longstanding statutory law are not.”
Second Amendment Foundation and the NRA
When Alan Gotlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), approached Bass asking if he would be willing to serve as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the city, he enthusiastically, if trepidatiously, agreed. It was through the SAF in which he maintained a point of contact throughout the legal process despite the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) involvement.
“The city knew it was illegal. The city did not have the authority to make the rule. They even said it would not stand up to a lawsuit,” Bass told the Lynnwood Times.
Bass knew Gottlieb personally through the Safer Homes, Suicide Aware task force, in which they both serve. He joined Forefront Suicide Prevention after volunteering on the Firearms Subcommittee of the Safer Homes task force. He became involved in the firearm industry after returning to the United States from serving in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve overseas, and after years of civilian work in private sector security contracting. It was his experience in detailed report generation that benefited in the list of documentation review that was involved with lawsuit filing.
Forefront Suicide Prevention
It was around 2016 when Jennifer Stuber, former Forefront Suicide Prevention director and co-founder, approached Bass at a King County & Seattle Public Health panel, to join her task force.
Bass had been working as a manager at West Coast Armory and was invited to speak at the panel, representing the firearm business. The first question on the panel, asked by a public health worker, was ‘how do we get those people with their guns to listen?’ and Brett asked if he could take it.
The room grew quiet. The panel steered their heads toward ‘the random guy from the gun business’ in curiosity.
Brett answered, “I think there’s a serious problem with the way that you asked the question; you kept referring to ‘those people’ with ‘their guns’ and it smacked of pointing a big finger at a large chunk of society and saying, ‘I don’t like you.’ There’s some serious othering language built into how your question was constructed, and that’s astonishing to me.”
Bass then conducted an informal audience poll asking how many in attendance were gun owners. Two hands went up. He followed up by asking how many people could name the four universal rules of firearm safety; one hand went down.
He concluded his point by saying, “this is a serious problem. You folks are public health experts. You’re presumably trained in cultural competence. But you’re incapable of talking to my community. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue…this is a serious societal problem.”
Bass received a standing ovation and was later approached by Stuber to join her team, where he’s worked ever since.
His Cross Examination Experience
Years later, after the decision to join the NRA-backed lawsuit against the city of Edmonds, he had a deposition with opposing council, after many meetings with the legal team.
“[It was] somewhat nerve-wracking. The opposing counsel was very concerned with the speed with which I could open my safe, how quickly I could grab a rifle next to my bed, etc. and seemed frustrated when I told them that I’d never timed myself doing either activity. I was under oath; I wasn’t about to give my word that I could do something in a specific amount of time when I had never timed it,” Bass said.
Brett believes that Government is like a fire. If well-tended and kept from uncontrolled expansion it will keep people warm at night and help cook their food. But if left unrestrained, it incinerates whatever it touches.
“We must hold the government to account, especially since it represents the legitimized monopoly on force,” Bass said. “It is allowed – and expected – to use force to coerce the citizenry to behave within the structures of the rules upon which the citizens collectively agree.”
He continued, “If government is allowed to flout the laws created by the consent of the governed, it becomes tyrannical. Our society is predicated upon the foundation that we are all ruled by the law, and this includes government. We do not have rulers; we have elected representatives. We cannot claim to have a government by, of, and for the people if the government is allowed to break the law and the citizens aren’t.”
The Final Outcome
The appellate court was found in the plaintiff’s favor and appealed February, arguing the law concerning firearms is ambiguously worded.
“The city broke the law and they got called on it,” Bass said. “Laws are intended to protect the rights of citizens. The point is they should not be allowed to break statutory law.”
Brett’s Message to the Community
Bass is not a fan of violating the law and holds no grudge against the Edmond’s City Council passing an ordinance requiring firearms to be stored in lockers. He believes in safe gun ownership and recommends everyone take a course on gun safety, if you are an owner or not.
He feels our ability to arm ourselves has done more good than bad and said from his observation, “Firearms are used more often in preservation of life and property than they are to take from it.”
Bass believes the largest driver of firearm fatality is suicide, by far, and that increasing community connectedness, decreasing the barriers to mental health and substance use counseling, and better allocating resources to deal with the majority of suicide decedents will lead to a reduction in the number of people who die from gunshot injuries more than any other set of policy recommendations.
In 2016, firearm suicides accounted for 75% of all firearm deaths in Washington state according to the Snohomish Health District. The report also stated that firearm suicides account for 45% of all suicides in Washington state.