Victory For Preemption

State Gun Law Uniformity Got A Big Boost Last Month

The Washington Supreme Court unanimously ruled a city safe
storage ordinance violates the state preemption law.

Something so remarkable happened recently in Washington — one of the original “preemption” states where the Legislature has sole authority to set gun laws, in the interest of uniformity — it should signal anti-gunners nationwide to back off.

A little background: The entire state Supreme Court in Washington is liberal. There is not a single moderate or conservative on the bench. Some critics refer to the high court as the “Seattle Supreme Court” with no pun intended. Washington’s preemption law has been around nearly 40 years, it has been used as a model by other states to craft their own statutes. Thus, Washington’s law is a prime target for anti-gunners, who apparently expected this particular court to whittle it down.

So, when the court handed down a unanimous ruling in a case known as Bass v. City of Edmonds, declaring a “safe storage” ordinance adopted by the Edmonds City Council in 2018 to be illegal under the state preemption statute, the gun control camp was not just stunned, it was devastated.

The lawsuit was a joint effort by the Second Amendment Foundation and National Rifle Association, and three private citizens including firearms instructor Brett Bass, for who the lawsuit was named. On the other side, anti-gun billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety was providing pro bono (free) legal support to the city, along with the Seattle-based Summit Law Group,” while NRA and SAF had to pay their own legal bills.

SAF’s Alan Gottlieb told me privately he would not have been surprised to see at least a couple of justices dissent. The unanimous decision was authored by Chief Justice Steven C. González, underscoring its importance.

Brett Bass, chief plaintiff in the Edmonds lawsuit and a veteran firearms instructor,
is proud of the ruling, but not so happy with the reaction from Edmonds officials.

Bass Delighted

After Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson declared the 9-0 ruling “felt barbaric,” plaintiff Brett Bass sent me a statement in which he blasted the Nelson administration.

“The city government has seen fit to disparage the perspective of those of us who objected to their policy prescription and insult those of us who insisted that this now-repudiated ordinance was both violative of state law and poorly-calibrated towards accomplishing the public health outcomes that they purport to have wanted to advance,” Bass wrote.

“Now that the courts have — three times now — found that the city broke state law by advancing this activist-propagated policy,” Bass continued, “there has been little evidence that there is any chance of introspection and a more collaborative approach to carefully considered public policy. Mayor Nelson described the state’s Supreme Court upholding decades of unambiguous statutory law as, ‘barbaric,’ in the press.  This is disappointing rhetoric for the chief elected public servant in an American city and raises serious questions about the state of civics education. Attacking the validity of state laws that protect Washingtonians’ civil rights and demeaning the independent judiciary are caustic and unbecoming.”

Dripping with Irony

Gottlieb and other gun rights activists were quick to seize on the irony of the ruling, because SAF and NRA had filed a lawsuit challenging a nearly-identical ordinance adopted in Seattle about the same time as the Edmonds effort.

The high court decision essentially nullified Seattle’s ordinance just days before anti-gun liberal Mayor Bruce Harrell was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the annual fund-raising luncheon sponsored by the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. Like Everytown, the Alliance is a billionaire-backed gun prohibition lobbying group, and for the past few years, they have been trying hard to repeal Washington’s preemption law.

The preemption smackdown will cause them to double down on their repeal effort. Between now and then, Evergreen State gun rights activists hope to displace some of the Democrats now controlling the Legislature, just to derail the antis.

Harrell is the chap who falsely claimed back in February that only a few states have preemption statutes, and Washington is one of them. Actually, at least 40 states have adopted preemption laws over the past four decades, a fact that caused Harrell to remain silent on the subject after it was brought to his attention.

There’s something else worth mentioning. Ever since the Alliance began pushing gun control initiatives back in 2014, the number of murders in Washington State and Seattle has steadily increased. In 2015, the FBI Uniform Crime Report said there were 209 slayings in the state, including 141 committed with guns. Leap ahead five years to 2020, and FBI data shows there were 298 murders including 177 involving firearms. In Seattle, 2015 saw 26 murders. In 2020, Seattle posted 52 homicides, according to Seattle police data.

Why It’s Important Nationally

Here’s the inside story: Gun prohibition lobbying groups wanted a trophy to start a national movement attacking all of the other preemption statutes. Whatever else they might desire, gun ban groups are big on symbolism.

Washington’s law, being the model, needed to fall. Instead, it is now carved in granite. Had the Evergreen State preemption statute been crushed — for that’s what Edmonds and Seattle were really attempting — the floodgates would have opened up for Bloomberg’s Everytown to find cooperative urban and suburban officials to challenge laws all over the map.

At issue is gun law uniformity. Under preemption, the gun laws are the same, whether one lives in, say, Houston or Dallas, Texas. In Idaho, you can drive from Sandpoint up north to Boise down south and not worry about violating some local gun law by crossing an invisible county line or city limit.

Cops In the Crosshairs

This column is big on data, but this week we’re going to talk about a number that is simply rotten.

According to Fox News, FBI Director Christopher Wray recently disclosed during an interview that murders of police officers “rose 59% in 2021,” a year during which murder in general only increased 29%. Alarmingly, Wray shared an observation that gave me pause.

“Violence against law enforcement in this country is one of the biggest phenomena that I think doesn’t get enough attention,” Wray said.

He estimated that in 2021, there was an officer fatality “every five days.”

“Some of it is tied to the violent crime problem as a whole,” Wray reportedly explained. “But one of the phenomena that we saw in the last year is that an alarming percentage of the 73 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty last year were killed through things like being ambushed or shot while out on patrol.”

As reported by Fox, Wray observed, “Wearing the badge shouldn’t make you a target.”

The annual FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2021 will not be released until late September. Until then, we’ll just take Wray’s word for it.

Readers will recall I wrote about two convicted felons last month in Washington State, who killed police officers in separate incidents about ten days apart. One of these suspects, Richard James Rotter, is charged with the murder of Everett Officer Dan Rocha. The other guy, Jeremy Dayton, was killed in a shootout during which Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Dominique “Dom” Calata was killed and Sgt. Rich Scaniffe was seriously wounded.

If Wray’s assessment is correct — that police officers, state troopers and sheriff’s deputies are being targeted — it’s a very bad omen. The Fox report quoted National FOP President Patrick Yoes, who issued a statement, “We are in the midst of a real crisis. The violence directed at law enforcement officers is unlike anything I’ve seen in my 36 years of law enforcement … Last year was one of the most dangerous years for law enforcement, with more officers shot in the line of duty since the National Fraternal Order of Police began recording this data.” 

On The Other Hand…

Occasionally along comes a plainspoken lawman whose remarks are the stuff that news stories and legends are made of, and in this case, that man is Bob Johnson, sheriff of Santa Rosa County in far northwest Florida, an area some consider southern Alabama.

Sheriff Bob Johnson of Santa Rosa County, Fla., says it is okay if homeowners
shoot burglars. (Screen image, Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office

Johnson recently made headlines when, during a press conference regarding the arrest of a recidivist outlaw so prolific the sheriff called him a “frequent flyer,” it was disclosed one of the people in the neighborhood where this guy was captured had actually shot at him. The burglar, identified as Brandon J. Harris, is a real “model citizen” with a criminal history that includes 17 arrests. At the time of his capture, he was in the process of burglarizing several homes. There were active warrants for Harris including felony violation of probation, battery and aggravated assault with a weapon.

It’s not clear whether arresting deputies told him “Let’s go, Brandon” as he was hauled to a waiting cruiser, but what Sheriff Johnson said was better. Asked about the shots fired at Harris, the sheriff observed, “If someone breaks unto your house you are more than welcome to shoot them in Santa Rosa County. We prefer that you do, actually.”

Mouths dropped open as Sheriff Johnson tossed this in for good measure, for the benefit of the unknown armed citizen: “So, whoever that was, you’re not in trouble. Come see us.”

Johnson encouraged the shooter to sign up for a firearm safety course offered by his department every two weeks.

“If you take that, you’ll shoot a lot better and hopefully you’ll save the taxpayer’s money,” Johnson said.

How could you not like this guy?