Second Amendment Foundation Files Preliminary Injunction Against Washington State’s Semi-Auto Ban
U.S.A. — Nine days after filing a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new Washington statute banning the future sale, import and manufacture of so-called “assault weapons,” the Second Amendment Foundation and its lawsuit partners have filed for a preliminary injunction to halt enforcement of House Bill 1240.
In their 21-page motion, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, SAF and its partners contend “there is no possible justification for Washington’s unconstitutional ban…Not only are they likely to succeed on the merits, but the threatened constitutional violation of Plaintiffs’ right to acquire firearms and to supply their customers with the same, would be irreparable if it were to occur, and public interest always favors the injunction of unconstitutional laws.”
SAF is joined in the lawsuit by the Firearms Policy Coalition, Sporting Systems, a Hazel Dell retailer, and three private citizens, Brett Bass, Douglas Mitchell and Lawrence Hartford, for whom the case is named. They are represented by Seattle attorney Joel Ard.
The initial lawsuit names Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and State Patrol Chief John Batiste as defendants, along with four county sheriffs and prosecuting attorneys from the same counties, all in their official capacities. The case is known as Hartford v. Ferguson.
The motion came one day after SAF, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and several other entities, along with SAF founder Alan Gottlieb filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Ferguson and three members of his staff, alleging civil rights violations.
“Washington has a long tradition of lawful private ownership of semiautomatic firearms,” Gottlieb explained in a prepared statement. “Millions of American citizens own these firearms, all over the country, and they have been in common use in the Evergreen State for many years. We believe this ban is wholly unconstitutional, and as such, we’re asking the court to enjoin the state from enforcing the law, to prevent Washington citizens from being penalized by an unjust, politically-motivated statute.”
Conservative estimates put the number of semi-auto rifles at some 24 million across the country. It is the most popular rifle in the country, and tens of thousands are likely owned by Evergreen State residents. Current owners are allowed to keep their rifles under the new law, which took effect immediately after it was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, who is not a defendant in the SAF lawsuit. The federal complaint was filed as Inslee was actually signing the measure back on April 25 in a ceremony in his office, flanked by gun control proponents.
Inslee and Ferguson had both lobbied for the ban, and the governor contended the new ban will help reduce so-called “gun violence” and save lives.
However, a check of the annual FBI Uniform Crime Report data dating back over several years confirmed that rifles of any kind are used in a fraction of all homicides in Washington, or across the country. In Washington, the number of annual slayings involving rifles has been fewer than 10 with the exception of 2016, when 11 people were killed. That was the year which saw three teens murdered at a party in the community of Mukilteo, and five people slain in a shooting at the Cascade Mall in Burlington.
In their motion, SAF and its partners contend, “In Bruen, and ‘[i]n keeping with Heller,’ the Supreme Court held that ‘when the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct. To justify its regulation, the government . . . must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.’ Here, the Second Amendment’s plain text covers the firearms Washington bans, so it falls to the State to justify the ban as consistent with historical tradition rooted in the Founding. It cannot possibly do so, because Bruen has already established that there is no tradition of banning commonly possessed arms.”
The motion for a preliminary injunction goes on to explain how the banned firearms fall within the Second Amendment’s meaning of the term “arms.”
“The Second Amendment states: ‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,’” the motion states. “The challenged law bans semiautomatic rifles based on their possessing specific features—for example, a rifle is banned if it can accept a detachable magazine and has a muzzle brake or muzzle compensator—or based on its inclusion in a list of specific models of banned arms. These are ‘Arms’ within the meaning of the Second Amendment’s plain text. The Supreme Court has explained that ‘[t]he 18th-century meaning is no different from the meaning today. . . ‘[A]rms’ [means] ‘any thing that a man wears for his defence, or takes into his hands, or useth in wrath to cast at or strike another.’” As a result, the Amendment presumptively protects Americans’ rights to possess ‘all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.’ ‘Therefore, under Bruen, Washington has the burden to show that its Ban is consistent with this Nation’s tradition of firearm regulation.”
Adam Kraut, SAF executive director and a practicing attorney, observed, “The courts have established that deprivation of constitutional rights constitutes irreparable injury, and the plaintiffs in this case have demonstrated the ban infringes on their Second Amendment rights, and thus causes irreparable harm. An injunction will not harm the state, because it will keep in place the status quo, which has always prevailed in Washington, right up to the moment Gov. Inslee signed the legislation. We’re hoping the court acts quickly in this matter, because politics should never outweigh the exercise of constitutionally-protected rights.”
At the time the lawsuit was filed, Gottlieb released a statement to the press asserting, “The state has put politics ahead of constitutional rights, and is penalizing law-abiding citizens while this legislation does nothing to arrest and prosecute criminals who misuse firearms in defiance of all existing gun control laws. It is absurd.”
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