Recent court rulings suggest Seattle’s just-approved gun storage ordinance may itself be illegal. Worse, passing the measure now has muddied the waters for voters, who are likely to consider a better version of gun storage on the ballot this fall.
Of all ideas for new gun laws, probably none would work better at cutting down on needless death and violence than compelling gun owners to lock up their weapons.
The research on this is pretty clear. In states having some form of gun-storage law — of which we are emphatically not one — guns are less frequently stolen or used in suicides or picked up by kids who found them loaded and lying around the house.
It also fits with responsible gun ownership. You control your own guns, using trigger locks or gun safes.
So it’s a continuation of a predictable hostility to any gun regulation that the National Rifle Association is suing Seattle over its recently passed gun-storage ordinance. The NRA likely will sue King County if it also passes a gun-storage measure this fall.
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But I have to say, as a strong supporter of gun storage as the kind of clearly constitutional regulation that can actually save lives, it’s just as aggravating that the activists-run-amok at the Seattle City Council, and maybe now the county, are taking a great idea and fouling it up.
Because here’s the thing: The ordinance the city passed unanimously, which would impose fines when guns are left unlocked, is almost certainly illegal. Take it from the state Supreme Court’s most recent discussion on whether cities or counties can pass gun laws.
“(State law) forbids the local regulation of guns,” Justice Debra Stephens declared, rather sweepingly, in an opinion last August in a case that narrowly permitted Seattle to levy a tax on guns and ammunition.
Or here’s Justice Steven González: “State law is plain and unambiguous; it says the state ‘fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation.’ … It follows that local taxes on firearms are permissible, but local firearm regulations are not.”
Added a third justice, Sheryl McCloud, who thought even the gun tax went too far: “(State law) now preempts not just local regulations, but local ‘laws and ordinances’ of all kinds that ‘relat[e] to firearms.’ ”
If you read all that and thought “looks like a green light to regulate gun storage!” then you might have what it takes for a career on the Seattle City Council.
But seriously, that the city charged ahead anyway is a problem on two levels.
One, the council has had four ordinances thrown out or checked by mostly liberal local judges in the past few years. I don’t get how this poor track record of legislating, no matter how well-intentioned, helps the underlying causes. Instead it makes the City Council seem off the rails. (In the council’s defense, some of these, such as a city income tax and allowing the unionization of Uber drivers, are on appeal, so it’s still possible the city may prevail in the end.)
More worrisome is that the city chose to plunge into the gun issue just as voters are likely going to be considering a stronger, statewide gun-storage law this fall.
Initiative 1639, which would raise the age for buying semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21, also contains a gun-storage provision.
It says if you leave a gun out and a kid under the age of 18 gets it, then you may be guilty of community endangerment. The charge ranges from a misdemeanor to a class C felony, depending on whether injury or death results.
The charge wouldn’t apply if the gun was locked up or had a trigger lock on it, if the gun was stolen during a break-in or if the child was under adult supervision.
Now that’s a perfectly sensible proposal, and, because it will be statewide, legal, too (although this initiative is also being challenged in court by gun-rights advocate). It’s not some far-left idea, either. Even the gunslinger state of Texas, home to more guns than people, holds adults criminally liable when a kid wrongly gets a gun.
It muddies the vote on this statewide gun-storage law when Seattle, and now maybe King County, are passing their own half-baked measures. What are voters supposed to think? In campaigns, confusion — or worse, lack of trust — often translates into “no” votes.
The motto of King County’s gun-control push is King County Can’t Wait. But it should wait, for voters statewide to speak. Far better to make a defensible law than score political points — something that seems a little lost on Seattle City Hall at the moment.