The Second Amendment Foundation today filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, challenging provisions of Initiative 594, the 18-page gun control measure passed by voters Nov. 4, on constitutional grounds.
According to a SAF press release, the Bellevue-based gun rights organization is joined by the Northwest School of Safety, the Firearms Academy of Seattle, Puget Sound Security, Inc., the Pacific Northwest Association of Investigators, six individual citizens including SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb and the Gottlieb Family Trust. They are represented by attorneys Steven Fogg and David Edwards of Seattle, and Miko Tempski in Bellevue.
Fogg represented SAF in its successful lawsuit against the City of Seattle’s attempted ban on firearms in city park facilities five years ago. SAF was joined at that time by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA), the National Rifle Association, Washington Arms Collectors and five individual citizens. Their court victory was upheld unanimously by the State Court of Appeals, and the State Supreme Court declined to review the case.
Among the individual plaintiffs in Tuesday’s lawsuit are three non-residents who travel in Washington frequently. They are Joe Waldron, legislative director for CCRKBA – SAF’s sister organization in Bellevue – and Chairman/treasurer of the Gun Owners’ Action League of Washington; California resident Gene Hoffman, chairman of the Calguns Foundation and SAF board member, and Gottlieb’s son, Andrew, an Arizona resident and trustee of the Gottlieb Family Trust.
Named as defendants, in their official capacities, are Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste. The complaint may be read here.
Among the allegations in the 31-page complaint are that language in I-594 is “so vague that a person of ordinary intelligence cannot understand its scope, which renders it subject to arbitrary enforcement.”
“For example,” the complaint asserts, “it is unclear whether I-594 applies in situations involving the following types of activity: family members’ common use of a firearm stored in the family’s gun-safe, where no delivery takes place to another person; employees’ common use of a firearm stored in a company’s gun-safe, where no delivery takes place to another person; the intended delivery of a firearm to a common carrier, such as FedEx, for the purposes of shipping (or) the intended delivery of a firearm to a storage facility, such as a safety deposit box…” The complaint cites other examples as well.
“The agencies of the State of Washington,” the complaint adds, “have so far either disclaimed the responsibility to interpret I-594 or provided interpretations that are so far removed from the language as to be useless.” This apparently applies to the Department of Licensing, and possibly to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which sent an advisory to its volunteer hunter education instructors on Dec. 2 regarding transfers of firearms during hunter safety courses.
“The guidance…stated, in part, that transfers between a Department hunter education instructor and a student are exempt because the instructor is an employee of the Department, which is in turn exempt as a law enforcement agency,” the complaint states. “The guidance goes on to note, however, that transfers between students would not be exempt, but that instructors could avoid I-594 by engaging in a straw-man transfer by taking the firearm from one student and handing it to another.”
“The broad and poorly constructed restrictions in I-594 render the enactment unconstitutional,” the lawsuit contends. So far, the complaint notes, the plaintiffs are not aware of any arrests, citations or prosecutions since the law took effect.
One important notation on Page 17 of the lawsuit is that in Washington state, “a license is not required to openly carry a firearm.” There is a growing contingent of open carry activists in the state, many of whom demonstrated against the initiative earlier this month in Olympia and Spokane.
Some Second Amendment activists believe inaction so far by state agencies is deliberate, so as to create the public impression that the new law is not as troubling as its critics alleged during the campaign. There are indications that legislative efforts are also in the works, and a rally against the measure is slated Jan. 15 on the capitol steps.
Today’s filing puts an end to speculation about legal action, and also answers complaints from some gun rights activists that SAF was essentially going to “roll over” and do nothing. SAF insiders had been keeping quiet about their legal strategy, lining up plaintiffs and doing their homework. That takes time.
“We’re not trying to stop background checks,” Gottlieb said in his press release. “We’re taking action against a poorly-written and unconstitutionally vague measure that criminalizes activities that are perfectly legal anywhere else in the country, thus striking at the very heart of a constitutionally-protected, fundamental civil right.”
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