City mayors seek change in state law preventing localized gun control

In wake of a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that left 19 students and two teachers dead, some Washington city officials say that the state's preemption laws regarding guns need to be changed to provide more local government control. 

The city of Edmonds tried to take gun control into its own hands when city lawmakers passed a requirement four years ago that all guns in the city be safely locked and stored.

The National Rifle Association and Bellevue’s Second Amendment Foundation fought the legislation in court, and eventually, the State Supreme court ruled against the city.

A preemption means state law supersedes any local law. Most gun laws are controlled by Congress, but states have the rights to enact some restrictions. 

City and county leaders do not have that power, although it’s become a contentious issue for them as it was in the case of the city of Edmonds.

"It’s been a tactic of the gun lobby to prevent municipalities from protecting their own citizens," said Allison Anderman, the Senior Counsel and Director of Local Policy for the Gifford’s Law Center.  The group was founded after the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in 2011 and works to address gun control laws.

In a written response to the Texas school shooting, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell called for a repeal of the state’s ban on preemption on gun laws.

"In Washington, because of state preemption, cities are nearly completely prohibited from passing our own laws to keep our communities safe from gun violence," he said.  "This must change. Cities and towns across our state need to have the freedom to enact laws that reduce gun violence, particularly now as shots fired and shooting deaths are spiking."

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards would not go as far as calling for a repeal, but would like to have more local control of guns in her city.

"If I were being honest, if the state did its job, we would not have to count on local government to do it," said Woodards. "The federal level should be responsible but when they are not, please give me the opportunity to be able to make the laws to keep my community safe."

When Washington passed its preemptive statute 35 years ago, it became a model for other states to follow.

"The idea behind it is to provide uniformity in firearms laws across the state of Washington," said Second Amendment Foundation Editor Dave Workman. "What’s legal in Spokane is legal in Ocean Shores. It's a good thing." 

Now, 42 states have similar laws to Washington. New York, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Nebraska, and Massachusetts do not.

However, in Colorado, state lawmakers overturned its gun preemptive statute in November 2021. It was spurred on by the mass shooting of 10 people at a Boulder, Colorado supermarket in March 2021.

"There are localities in Colorado now looking at effective evidence gun safety policies like waiting periods, bans on assault weapons with large-capacity magazines, ghost gun regulations and more," said Anderman.

Washington state lawmakers have passed similar laws such as a ban on large-capacity magazines.

Seattle has a tax on ammunition that is so high, it’s effectively ended sales of ammunition in the city. Tacoma may enact a similar tax later this summer but not for the same reasons as Seattle says Tacoma’s Mayor.

"I’m a person of faith, but I’m tired of thoughts and prayers, we need action" says Woodards.