A lawsuit backed by a California-based pro-gun group seeks to prevent Washington’s impending ban on the sale and manufacture of large-capacity firearm magazines from taking effect this summer.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, seeks an injunction to prevent Senate Bill 5078 from going into effect July 1. The measure, signed into law in March, does not ban the possession of large-capacity magazines but outlaws the import and sale of any magazine that holds more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
The Sacramento-based Firearms Policy Coalition is backing the lawsuit and lists itself as a plaintiff, along with a Washington gun owner, Gabriella Sullivan of Kitsap County; Rainier Arms, a King County gun shop; and the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation.
“This is another important case in our … strategic litigation program that seeks to restore the right to keep and bear arms for all peaceable people,” coalition president Brandon Combs said in a news release. “The State of Washington is not exempt from the Constitution. FPC will work to strike down and enjoin enforcement of these unconstitutional and immoral police state policies.”
The lawsuit, filed less than two weeks after 21 people, including 19 children, were gunned down by a mass shooter using an assault-style semi-automatic rifle fitted with a 30-round magazine at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, states that the new law impinges on Washington residents’ rights to defend themselves.
The Texas shooting and a racist attack that killed 10 people last month in Buffalo, New York, have prompted President Joe Biden and others to call for bans on some semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity magazines.
The lawsuit filed Friday turns an argument for new restrictions on its head, however.
Reports have shown that police in Uvalde waited more than an hour before entering the classroom where the shooter was holed up while parents and others begged them to act.
The FPC claims that Washington residents can’t rely on law enforcement to protect them and that they need access to their weapons and magazines in order to protect themselves.
“During uncertain times — with the recognition that governments have no legal duty to protect the people they serve — there is no guarantee that law enforcement will respond to an individual’s 911 call during this crisis or after it,” the lawsuit says. “Those who choose to exercise their fundamental and individual Second and Fourteenth Amendment protected rights cannot be denied those rights.”
The lawsuit argues that the term “large capacity” mislabels what are actually “standard-capacity” magazines for many semi-automatic handguns and rifles. It also alleges that limiting the ammunition capacity of such weapons violates gun owners’ Second and 14th amendment rights.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson first proposed Washington’s measure in the wake of a 2016 shooting at a house party in Mukilteo, where a 19-year-old Kamiak High School graduate used an AR-15 rifle equipped with a 30-round magazine to kill three Kamiak students and wound a fourth.
The Legislature passed the measure March 4 and Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law later that month.
Ferguson is a defendant in the lawsuit, along with several law enforcement officials, including Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste, King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall, Kitsap County Sheriff John Gese and Grays Harbor County Sheriff Rick Scott. The lawsuit also names as defendants three prominent elected prosecuting attorneys: Dan Satterberg of King County, Chad Enright of Kitsap County and Katie Svoboda of Grays Harbor County.
In a statement posted to social media on Friday, Ferguson stated: “Yet again, the gun lobby is trying to challenge common-sense gun-safety laws,” adding that his office “is undefeated in court against the gun lobby.” He promised to “vigorously defend our new law.”
The attorney general also noted that seven different appellate courts have considered and upheld similar laws. The FPC’s lawsuit acknowledges that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, has rejected a challenge to similar restrictions enacted in California.
“Plaintiffs believe that case was wrongly decided,” the lawsuit says. “They therefore institute this litigation to vindicate their Second Amendment
protected rights and seek to have [the California ruling] overruled.”
The FPC notes that the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering two cases that could be decided in its favor, changing the tenure of the Washington litigation.
Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for Inslee, said the governor’s office has not reviewed the litigation. Faulk noted, however, that, “As the governor said when he signed this bill, we are not willing to accept gun violence as a normal part of life in the state of Washington. We do not doubt the constitutionality of this law and are confident it will save lives.”
The lawsuit alleges that a ban on the import or manufacture of magazines holding more than 10 rounds would be meaningless and wouldn’t prevent violent crimes. It quotes research showing that in the U.S., where there are more than 350 million privately owned firearms, the number of magazines with a capacity of 10 rounds or more likely numbers in the hundreds of millions.