Another judge denies request to block Washington’s semiautomatic gun ban

By: - June 23, 2023 5:12 pm

(Getty Images)

The latest legal attempt to block Washington’s ban on sales of semiautomatic firearms came up short Friday.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Allyson Zipp rejected a Moses Lake gun dealer’s request for a temporary restraining order halting enforcement of House Bill 1240, which prohibits the sale, distribution and importation of certain assault-style weapons.

Guardian Arms, the lead plaintiff, contended in legal filings that the state’s “assault weapons” ban violates the right to bear arms laid out in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Zipp issued her ruling from the bench Friday, according to a release from the state Attorney General’s office. A written order will be filed at a later date, the release stated.

Her decision comes nearly three weeks after a federal judge denied a similar request from gun rights advocates in a separate legal challenge. The plaintiffs, like Guardian Arms, argued the new law is unconstitutional.

In his June 6 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Bryan struck an unsympathetic tone toward the plaintiffs’ claims and cast doubt on whether they would be successful as the case moves forward.

“Considering the exceptional dangerousness of these weapons, the public interest in their regulation by the State outweighs the Plaintiffs’ desire to purchase more assault weapons,” Bryan wrote. “In light of recent mass deaths caused by assailants using assault weapons, it is appropriate for governmental bodies to find ways to protect the public from dangerous weapons, within the limits of the Second Amendment.”

A third lawsuit is pending in federal court in the Eastern District of Washington. Plaintiffs in that case are also seeking an injunction. A hearing is scheduled for July 27 in Spokane.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed Washington’s law April 25 and it went into effect immediately. 

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson (at podium) makes remarks prior to Gov. Jay Inslee (to the left of Ferguson) signing a package of gun legislation in April 2023. The legislation included a ban on the sale of firearms classified as “assault weapons.” (Bill Lucia/Washington State Standard)

It outlaws 61 specific firearms, defined broadly as semiautomatic pistols and semiautomatic rifles with detachable ammunition magazines. Among them are AK-47s in all forms, Uzi 9 mm carbines, AR-15s, M16s and Beretta AR70 and S70 semiautomatics.

There are exceptions for manufacture and sale to law enforcement and the military. It does not bar the possession of assault weapons.

Guardian Arms, which sells guns and offers training in safety and marksmanship, originally filed its suit in Grant County. Last month, state attorneys succeeded in getting the case moved to Thurston County where Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the primary defendants, are based.

Washington is one of 10 states with prohibitions on semiautomatic rifles, according to Everytown For Gun Safety, which pushes for tighter gun laws.

As in Washington, there are pending legal challenges to legislation passed in other states. To date, none have been successful

But that could change in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. The precedent set by that case requires gun restrictions adopted by states to be consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation in order for them to be constitutional.

Ultimately, the ability of states to ban sales of certain firearms could reach the nation’s high court.

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Jerry Cornfield
Jerry Cornfield

Jerry Cornfield joined the Standard after 20 years covering Olympia statehouse news for The Everett Herald. Earlier in his career, he worked for daily and weekly papers in Santa Barbara, California.