EDMONDS, Wash., April 27, 2022 – The Supreme Court of Washington unanimously affirmed a state Court of Appeals decision on Thursday, April 21, that a City of Edmonds ordinance regarding gun storage is pre-empted by state law.
After a robust debate following a mass shooting at nearby Marysville Pilchuck High School, the Edmonds City Council, led by then Council President now Mayor Mike Nelson, adopted an ordinance on July 24, 2018, requiring gun owners to secure firearms with a locking device when not in use.
Violations of ordinance 4120 (codified as Edmonds City Code chapter 5.26), would range from $500 if a minor, at-risk person, or a prohibited person gained access to the firearm, to a fine of $10,000 if the firearm is used to commit a crime, injure or cause death to themselves or others.
At around the same time Washington voters enacted Initiative 1639 which, among other things, criminalizes unsafe storage of firearms but in more limited circumstances than Edmonds’ ordinance, specifically not mandating how or where a firearm must be stored.
Shortly after, Edmonds resident Brett Bass, Program Manager of Forefront Suicide Prevention, Bellevue Gun Club instructor and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, was approached by Alan Gotlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), about serving as plaintiff in a lawsuit against the city.
“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.
The plaintiffs challenged the ordinance as preempted by state law. The city of Edmonds moved to dismiss that the challengers did not have standing.
The trial judge, based on the facts alleged in the initial complaint, found the plaintiffs had standing to challenge the safe storage section of the ordinance (ECC 5.26.020) but not the unauthorized access section (ECC 5.26.030) since they did not have alleged facts that would tend to show an unauthorized person would get access to the weapons.
Later, during summary judgement, the trial judge renewed her earlier determination and concluded that the safe storage portion of the ordinance was preempted by state law.
The appellate court in February of 2021, concluded that the plaintiffs had standing to challenge the entire ordinance and that the ordinance was preempted by state law.
In March 2021, the city petitioned the high court to review the decision and the court affirmed its opinion last Thursday.
“We must hold the government to account, especially since it represents the legitimized monopoly on force,” Bass told the Lynnwood Times. “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.”
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 2020, firearm suicides accounted for 52% (608) of all suicide deaths and roughly 65% of all firearm deaths in Washington state according to the Washington State Department of Health and the CDC respectively.