Insider Exclusive:
Anatomy Of A Lawsuit

An Inside Look At The Challenge Of Washington’s Semi-Auto Ban

Dave doesn’t own a modern semi-auto rifle, but he’s shot lots of
them and thinks anyone who wants one should be able to legally buy it.

While Democrat Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson were celebrating passage of a bill to ban so-called “assault weapons” in the Evergreen State, the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and its partners were filing a federal lawsuit challenging the ban, asking for an injunction against its enforcement.

It was the culmination of a considerable amount of work which began some two-and-one-half months prior to Inslee’s press event where he and others made grand speeches about the years they spent trying to pass a ban, with predictions about the crimes to be prevented and lives to be saved; none of which will likely come true.

Insider sat down with Alan Gottlieb, SAF founder and executive vice president for the background on what could become a nasty court battle. Most people in the firearms community have no idea about what goes into preparing for and filing a federal lawsuit. They do not just happen overnight, especially if your plan is to file while the ink is still wet on whatever law is being challenged, in this case House Bill 1240, made possible by a Democrat majority voted into office last November, with its eyes squarely on ratcheting down on the Second Amendment rights of Washington gun owners.

SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb is at the
forefront of a federal lawsuit against gun bans in Washington,
Maryland and elsewhere.

The 21-page complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, a court which has seen previous SAF legal challenges of Washington gun control laws. The case is known as Hartford v. Ferguson. Joining SAF are the Firearms Policy Coalition, Sporting Systems, a Vancouver-area retailer, and three private citizens, Brett Bass, Douglas Mitchell and Lawrence Hartford, the latter for whom the case is named. They are represented by Seattle attorney Joel Ard.

Named as defendants are Ferguson, State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste, Kitsap County Sheriff John Gese and County Prosecutor Chad M. Enright; Kittitas County Sheriff Clayton Myers and County Prosecutor Greg Zempel; Clark County Sheriff John Horch and County Prosecutor Tony Golik, and Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortnoy and County Prosecutor Jason Cummings, all in their official capacities.

That’s the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Now for the background.

SAF Executive Director Adam Kraut is also an attorney, and he’s one
of several people who were involved in the background of the federal
lawsuit against Washington’s semi-auto rifle ban.

Weeks of Preparation

Believe it or not, federal civil rights lawsuits do not happen overnight. Gottlieb and SAF Executive Director Adam Kraut, a Pennsylvania-based practicing attorney who came aboard with the Bellevue, Wash.-based foundation last fall, started working on the lawsuit in February, when it became obvious Democrats were going to push through the ban on semi-auto rifles come Hell or high water.

According to Gottlieb, early preparations included rounding up plaintiffs, consulting with attorneys and making sure of funding. Lawsuits are expensive, especially when the defendants are public officials, including a state attorney general.

Plaintiffs have to decide the issues and in this case the lawsuit would challenge the new law on Second and Fourteenth Amendment grounds. Ever since June 2010, the Second Amendment has been incorporated to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment, thanks to a SAF Supreme Court victory in McDonald v. City of Chicago.

The longer a lawsuit takes for resolution, the higher the legal bills. By no small coincidence, SAF and other rights groups were waiting for U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez to issue a ruling on California’s semi-auto ban. At this writing, it had not been announced.

It takes time to draft a lawsuit, and a lot of eyes eventually were on this one. Gottlieb said the final document was carefully studied by no less than six attorneys, with Ard being the “attorney of record” who is the boots-on-the-ground because he is in Seattle. The document is read and re-read. Everything must be correct in a legal sense. It cannot be sloppy.

Each plaintiff in a federal lawsuit is vetted, a common practice that assures they will be good for the case. Bass had been a plaintiff in a previous SAF lawsuit, filed in partnership with the National Rifle Association about three years ago, against a so-called “safe storage” mandate passed by the City of Edmonds, in direct violation of the state firearms preemption law. They won that case with a unanimous decision by the state Supreme Court in 2022.

While all of this was going on, SAF was keeping a close eye on the Legislature, where public hearings on the legislation were conducted, and gun rights activists were staying busy, corresponding with, and calling, various lawmakers in an effort to derail, or at least get some possible amendments. But the Democrat majority rejected all but two amendments offered in the state Senate, and then House Democrats rejected the two amendments. The bill went through more negotiations and finally was approved about April 17.

By then, not only was the federal complaint ready for filing, but Gottlieb and his staff had put together a press release announcing the lawsuit, which was circulated simultaneously with the court filing. The release would be specifically sent to Washington State media outlets first, and then to the wider national media audience.

On the morning Inslee scheduled the bill signing ceremony, SAF was ready to rock. At approximately 10:25 a.m., just as the governor’s press event was beginning, Ard filed the lawsuit electronically. Within a couple of hours, the lawsuit became the lead story at Fox News, while Gottlieb did a steady stream of interviews with local and national media. Social media lit up as people became aware. Many announced they were donating to or joining SAF, to be part of the fight.

Gottlieb spent a lot of time on the phone, talking to attorneys
and doing the “grunt work” required to keep the legal action on track.

Rhetoric and Response

There’s a certain degree of show biz in a bill signing, especially one dealing with gun control. Inslee made sure he referred to the semiautomatic rifles as “weapons of war” and “assault weapons,” declaring they “have no reason other than mass murder.”

In response, Gottlieb observed, “The state has put politics ahead of constitutional rights, and is penalizing law-abiding citizens while this legislation does nothing to arrest and prosecute criminals who misuse firearms in defiance of all existing gun control laws. It is absurd.”

It was Inslee’s tough luck that his press event was held the same morning Joe Biden announced his intention to run for re-election in 2024.

Not only did SAF file a lawsuit, the National Shooting Sports Foundation — the firearms industry trade association — condemned the new law as unconstitutional, and vowed to file its own challenge, since the law has an immediate impact on gun makers and gun retailers.

Washington became the tenth state to ban so-called “assault weapons.” SAF and its sister organization, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, is involved in a similar challenge to a gun ban in Maryland. SAF also has legal actions in California.

SAF, NSSF and others are confident they will eventually prevail, but admit it could take time, perhaps a couple of years. Ferguson, who allegedly has ambitions to be the next governor, was equally confident the ban will be upheld. In the meantime, Washington residents will be penalized while the criminal element won’t even notice.

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