May 30, 2024 5:14 am

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WA judge rules high-capacity magazine ban unconstitutional, state appeals

OLYMPIA, Wash., April 10, 2023—A Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge ruled Monday, April 8, that Washington State’s ban on high-capacity magazines was unconstitutional, immediately issuing an injunction for the state to stop enforcing the ban, the Seattle Times first reported.

high-capacity magazines
Bill signing attendees at the Washington state Capitol Building in Olympia on March 23, 2022.

On July 1, 2022, Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5078 went into effect making it illegal to sell or possess magazines with more than ten rounds of capacity in Washington State and included sections creating claims under the Washington Consumer Protection Act.

“Enough families have experienced the tragedy of gun violence in our state,” said Sen. Liias, the bill’s primary sponsor. “It is long overdue that we step up to protect Washingtonians from mass shootings. The Legislature took that step today by voting to limit high-capacity magazines, and our communities will be safer for it. This is a common-sense policy that will save lives, and I am grateful for all of the years of advocacy that led to its passage.”

A Kelso-based retail firearm business, Gator’s Custom Guns Inc., which has historically sold high-capacity magazines, filed a declaratory judgement action against the State of Washington, in Cowlitz County Superior Court, arguing that ESSB 5078 violated the Washington Constitution, Article 1, Section 24, as well as the United States Constitutions’ second amendment.

The arms store refused to prohibit selling high-capacity magazines following the effective date of SB-5078 prompting the state to file a CPA enforcement action. Both lawsuits, with overlapping constitutional claims, were consolidated in court by the state’s suggestions.

Just last February a gun store in Federal Way, Federal Way Discount Guns, was ordered by the Washington Attorney General’s Office to pay $3 million in fines for selling high-capacity magazines following the effective date of ESSB 5078. It’s unclear what will become of the gun store’s, and owner Mohammad Baghai, $3 million fine now following the Superior Court judge’s rulings Monday.

At Monday’s hearing, after oral arguments from council, considering memorandums, and thoroughly researching federal, and state, caselaw, Superior Court Judge B. Bashor ruled Monday that there were no factual circumstances the court could “conceive under which ESSB 5078 as written and codified could be constitutional under the United States Constitution, Second Amendment,” court documents state. The Court also found “ESSB 5078 is facially unconstitutional under the United States Constitution”.

Following the decision, Attorney General Bob Furguson immediately filed an emergency stay to the State Supreme Court seeking the ban to remain in effect through the appeal process, Kiro 7 reported. The appeal was granted Monday, 88 minutes later, and the ban will remain in place for now.

Attorney General Furguson has been a staunch anti-assault rifle and anti-high-caliber magazine since at least 2017 following the 2016 mass shooting at a Mukilteo house party when the shooter used a military-style assault rifle and a high-capacity magazine. Ferguson backed the passing of SB 5078 as well as successfully passing a bill banning the manufacturing and possession of ghost guns, which passed the legislature in 2019.

Back in October, 2023, U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez struck down a similar ban to assault rifles in California which prohibits the sale, transfer, manufacturing, and possession of specific semi-automatic weapons, writing the ban was unconstitutional, “extreme”, and had “no historical pedigree,” – almost identical to Washington’s ban.

“Like the Bowie Knife which was commonly carried by citizens and soldiers in the 1800s, “assault weapons” are dangerous, but useful. But unlike the Bowie Knife, the United States Supreme Court has said, “[t]here is a long tradition of widespread lawful gun ownership by private individuals in this country,” Judge Benitez wrote in his 79-page decision October 19.

On March 5, 2022, in a late-night session, legislation to restrict the sale of high-capacity firearm magazines was approved by the Washington House of Representatives on a 55-42 vote with no Republican support.

“This is a serious bill that will jeopardize the safety of Washingtonians,” said Sen. Phil Fortunato R-Auburn. “This is not about providing safety for children. This is putting in jeopardy the lives of law-abiding citizens, especially women.”

Senate Bill 5078, sponsored by Sen. Marko Liias (D-Everett), prohibits the manufacture, sale, import or transfer of large-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The approved legislation does not ban the current possession of high-capacity magazines already in possession. The law was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on March 23, 2022, joining Washington with nine other states to impose similar prohibitions.

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