Democratic Governor Jay Inslee, backed by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, signed a sweeping gun package into law that includes a ban on so-called assault weapons. Quite simply, lawmakers are running amok with zero regard for the Constitution or ruling from the Supreme Court. This is, unfortunately, getting to be so common some would contend it is not newsworthy.
House Bill 1240 was part of a three-bill gun control legislation package. HB 1240 is blatantly unconstitutional. The bill essentially uses a convoluted framework to make essentially every semi-automatic rifle and many shotguns illegal. It specifically lists 50 types of semi-automatic rifles and sets forth a series of design features, attachments, or aesthetics that would also cause an “unnamed” rifle to be illegal under the law.
Washington State is not the first to enact such laws; it is the latest and perhaps the worst. HB 1240 has taken the laws in California and New York to new levels. Even though the Supreme Court struck down similar gun control measures in NYSRPA v. Bruen, Illinois and Washington have completely disregarded the decision and passed even more restrictive laws than those already declared unconstitutional.
In the Bruen decision, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that AR-15-type firearms were “in common usage,” a principle most attributed to the Heller decision. However, in the early 1920s the North Carolina Supreme Court in State v. Kerner upheld the constitutional right to carry a pistol openly without a license. To the citizen, “The rifle, the musket, the shotgun, and the pistol are about the only arms which he could be expected to ‘bear,’ and his right to do this is that which is guaranteed by the Constitution,” said the ruling.
House Bill 1240 Lowlights
- Assault weapons are civilian versions of weapons created for the military and are designed to kill humans quickly and efficiently.
- The legislature finds that assault weapons are not suitable for self-defense and that studies show that assault weapons are statistically not used in self-defense.
- The legislature finds that assault weapons are not commonly used in self-defense and that any proliferation is not the result of the assault weapon being well-suited for self-defense, hunting, or sporting purposes.
- The legislature finds that the gun industry has specifically marketed these weapons as “tactical,” “hyper masculine,” and “military style” in a manner that overtly appeals to troubled young men intent on becoming the next mass shooter.
Taking Action: The Second Amendment Foundation
Responding quickly to the adoption of House Bill 1240, the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) filed a federal lawsuit challenging the new statute on Second and Fourteenth Amendment grounds and is asking the court for preliminary and permanent injunctions.
The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The case is known as Hartford v. Ferguson. Joining SAF are the Firearms Policy Coalition, Sporting Systems, a Hazel Dell retailer, and three private citizens—Brett Bass, Douglas Mitchell, and Lawrence Hartford—the last for whom the case is named. They are represented by Seattle attorney Joel Ard.
Named as defendants are Washington Attorney General Bob 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 Fortney and County Prosecutor Jason Cummings, all in their official capacities.
“The State has enacted a flat prohibition on the manufacture, sale, import, and distribution of many types of firearms, inaccurately labeled as ‘assault weapons,’ which are owned by millions of ordinary citizens across the country,” said SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb. “In the process, the state has criminalized a common and important means of self-defense, the modern semi-automatic rifle. The state has put politics ahead of constitutional rights and is penalizing law-abiding citizens. This legislation does nothing to arrest and prosecute criminals who misuse firearms in defiance of all existing gun control laws. It is absurd.”
Gottlieb noted that SAF already has two legal actions in progress challenging Washington gun laws. One lawsuit concerns the magazine ban and the other challenges the ban on sales of semi-automatic rifles to young adults.
“The hysteria manufactured by the authors and supporters of this legislation is rivaled only by the false characterization of the banned firearms as ‘weapons of war,’” SAF Executive Director Adam Kraut added.
“As we note in our complaint, the firearms that Washington bans as ‘assault weapons’ are, in all respects, ordinary semi-automatic rifles. To the extent they are different from other semi-automatic rifles, their distinguishing features make them safer and easier to use. But even if they are considered as a separate group of ‘assault weapons,’ they cannot be banned because they are not dangerous and unusual.
“We will take this case to the highest court in the land, if necessary,” Kraut added. “This sort of legislative demagoguery cannot be allowed to stand.”
Others Joining the Fight
The SAF is not alone in opposing the gun control effort. “This new law is blatantly unconstitutional. The Supreme Court long ago ruled that states cannot ban firearms that are in common use,” Aoibheann Cline, Washington state director of the NRA-ILA, said of the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington state. The NRA-ILA lawsuit is joined by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), Aero Precision, and Sharp Shooting Indoor Range & Gun Shop.