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Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 2023 ‘Preemption of Local Laws in Washington.’ Other Laws & Policies. San Francisco, CA: Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 21 September

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Local Authority to Regulate Firearms in Washington

Local regulatory authority is derived from Article XI, § 11 of the Washington State Constitution, which provides that "[a]ny county, city, town or township may make and enforce within its limits all such local police, sanitary and other regulations as are not in conflict with general laws." The Washington Legislature, however, has limited the authority of local governments to regulate firearms. Washington Revised Code Ann. § 9.41.290 states:

The state of Washington hereby fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state, including the registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation of firearms, or any other element relating to firearms or parts thereof, including ammunition and reloader components. Cities, towns, and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to firearms that are specifically authorized by state law, as in RCW 9.41.300, and are consistent with this chapter. Such local ordinances shall have the same penalty as provided for by state law. Local laws and ordinances that are inconsistent with, more restrictive than, or exceed the requirements of state law shall not be enacted and are preempted and repealed, regardless of the nature of the code, charter, or home rule status of such city, town, county, or municipality.

The Supreme Court of Washington has held that section 9.41.290 was not intended to preempt reasonable rules regarding the possession of weapons in the public workplace. In Cherry, the court held that a municipal employer has the authority to regulate or prohibit employee possession of firearms while on the job because the provisions under section 9.41.290, as well as its legislative history, do not "deal with the authority of public employers to prohibit their employees from carrying firearms or any other weapons while on duty or at the workplace."

The court noted that section 9.41.290 "was enacted to reform that situation in which counties, cities, and towns could each enact conflicting local criminal codes regulating the general public's possession of firearms." As such, section 9.41.290 was not intended to preempt "the authority of a municipal employer to regulate or prohibit a municipal employee's possession of firearms while on the job or in the workplace."

Section 9.41.300(2) provides that cities, towns, counties and other municipalities may enact ordinances restricting:

- The discharge of firearms in any portion of their respective jurisdiction where there is a reasonable likelihood that humans, domestic animals, or property will be jeopardized; and
- The possession of firearms in any stadium or convention center, operated by a city, town, county, or other municipality, except that such restriction shall not apply to:

- Any pistol in the possession of a person licensed to do so under state law or exempt from the licensing requirement; or
- Any showing, demonstration, or lecture involving the exhibition of firearms.

Under section 9.41.300(3), cities, towns, and counties also may:

- Enact ordinances restricting the areas in their respective jurisdictions in which firearms may be sold, but a business selling firearms may not be treated more restrictively than other businesses located within the same zone. An ordinance requiring the cessation of business within a zone shall not have a shorter grandfather period for businesses selling firearms than for any other businesses within the zone; and
- Restrict the location of a business selling firearms to not less than 500 feet from primary or secondary school grounds, if the business has a storefront, has hours during which it is open for business, and posts advertisements or signs observable to passers-by that firearms are available for sale. A business selling firearms that exists as of the date a restriction is enacted under this provision shall be grandfathered according to existing law.

In Pacific Northwest Shooting Park Ass'n v. City of Sequim, 144 P.3d 276 (Wash. 2006), the court held that a city may impose permit restrictions on private party gun sales at a gun show located in the city's convention center. The court reasoned that the authority to regulate sales of firearms in a city's convention center was necessarily included within section 9.41.300(2)'s grant of authority to regulate possession at that location, and that a gun show is not a "showing, demonstration, or lecture involving the exhibition of firearms." The court further reasoned that section 9.41.290 only prohibits "laws and ordinances," and does not prohibit a municipal property owner from imposing permit conditions related to firearms for the use of its property.

In contrast, however, the Washington Court of Appeals held in Chan v. City of Seattle, 164 Wash. App. 549, 562 (Wash. Ct. App. 2011) that the "plain language" of sections 9.41.290 and 9.41.300 preempted Seattle's regulation of the possession of firearms at designated park areas and park facilities open to the public. The court found that section 9.41.300 did not allow the city to regulate firearms in parks and park facilities open to the public, and the city was not acting as the proprietor of a business enterprise for private advantage in adopting the firearms rule. Moreover, neither Cherry nor Pacific Northwest Shooting Park Ass'n supports the argument that Seattle has the authority to regulate the possession of firearms at designated park areas and park facilities open to the public.

In City of Seattle v. Ballsmider, 856 P.2d 1113 (Wash. Ct. App. 1993), a Washington appellate court held that an ordinance prohibiting discharge of a firearm in Seattle did not violate section 9.41.290.

Under section 9.41.110(12), every city, town, and political subdivision of the state is prohibited from requiring the purchaser of a firearm to secure a permit to purchase, or from requiring a firearms dealer to secure an individual permit for each sale…

[Editor's note: The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence regularly updates its webpages with new data as US gun regulation evolves state by state. For the most up-to-date information on US gun laws, please refer to the Giffords URL below]

ID: Q7743

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