The Latest on Regulation of Firearms

Two recent court decisions in Seattle provide clarification on regulation of firearms.

 Background

On February 10, 2010, King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer signed an Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment in the case of Chan v. Seattle (“State Court Order”).  The State Court Order found that the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation’s Rule/Policy No. P 060-8.14 (“Firearms Rule”) violates a Washington statute, RCW 9.41.290, and enjoined (stopped) the City from enforcing the Firearms Rule.  As part of the State Court Order, Judge Shaffer found that “Plaintiffs have a clear legal or equitable right to carry firearms under federal and state constitutions.”  The statute that the State Court Order is based on states, in part, that the state “fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state . . . . Cities, towns and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to firearms that are specifically authorized by state law. . . . Local laws and ordinances that are inconsistent with, or more restrictive than, or exceed the requirements of state law shall not be enacted and are preempted and repealed. . . .”

On March 11, 2010, in a federal case called Warden v. Nickels, United States District Court Judge Marsha Pechman filed an Order Granting Motion to Dismiss (“Federal Court Order”) dismissing a challenge to the Firearms Rule.  The Federal Court Order refers to the State Court Order, but the Federal Court Order addresses different issues; specifically, whether the Firearms Rule violates the U.S. or Washington State Constitutions.  The Federal Court Order holds that the Firearms Rule is not unconstitutional under either the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment or under the Washington State Constitution. 

In other words, the City of Seattle’s Firearms Rule is no longer in effect because it violates a state law (RCW 9.41.290), but under the Federal Court Order, it would be possible for the City to enact a rule like the Firearms Rule if the state statute allowed for it.  One or both of the orders could be modified by subsequent court decisions or legislative action, however.

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