By Bill Pan
A law prohibiting the future sale of so-called “assault weapons” in Washington has drawn multiple lawsuits since the moment Democrat Gov. Jay Inslee inked his approval for the ban on Tuesday.
The new law, which passed the Evergreen State’s Democrat-led legislature on largely party-line votes before it was approved by Inslee, bans the sale, manufacture, and importation of some 60 popular gun models by name, including the “AK-47 in all forms,” and the “AR-15, M16, or M4 in all forms.”
Going well beyond that list, the ban also applies to any semiautomatic rifle, pistol, or shotgun that has one or more of such common features as a pistol grip, forward grip, thumbhole stock, folding or telescoping stock, flash hider, sound suppressor, muzzle brake, recoil compensator, or threaded barrel. It also bans the future sale of unassembled kits or a “combination of parts from which an assault weapon can be assembled.”
The final version included some exemptions for sales to law enforcement and the military. It still allows, at least for now, possession of such firearms by people who already have them. However, those weapons cannot be legally transferred unless as family heirlooms.
The law is being challenged in court in at least two separate cases, including one brought by Bellevue, Washington-based Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and Sacramento, California-based Firearms Policy Coalition.
“The state of Washington has criminalized one of the most common and important means by which its citizens can exercise their fundamental right to self-defense,” the pro-Second Amendment rights groups argued in their complaint (pdf), filed the same day Inslee signed the law.
“Central among the common uses of semiautomatic firearms banned in Washington is self-defense,” they added, noting that the banned features are meant to make the weapons safer and easier to use. “By contrast, one use that is not common for so-called assault weapons is crime.”
The SAF is already fighting two legal battles in its home state: one against the ban on so-called “high-capacity magazines,” and the other challenges the ban on sales of semiautomatic rifles to anyone under the age of 21.
“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,” Alan Gottlieb, SAF’s founder and executive vice president, told The Epoch Times. “It is absurd.”
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has also taken legal action, similarly arguing that most Americans keep semiautomatic weapons for a good reason.
“Instead of arresting, prosecuting and punishing criminals, Gov. Inslee is focusing on restricting the rights of law-abiding Americans who use these rifles for a variety of lawful purposes,” Aoibheann Cline, the head of NRA’s legal arm in Washington state, said in a statement.
In a complaint filed on Tuesday, the NRA argued that the Washington law defines “assault weapon” in such an extremely broad way that it applies to all of the most popular models possessed by millions of Americans for lawful purposes.
“The Supreme Court has made clear that when a court confronts a flat ban on a type of arm, the only question is whether the arm at issue is ‘typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,’” the complaint read, pointing to a 2008 Supreme Court decision. “If the answer is ‘yes,’ then the ban is unconstitutional because a state cannot prohibit ordinary law-abiding Americans from possessing what the Constitution explicitly entitles them to ‘keep.’”
The state-wide ban went into effect when signed by Inslee, who was elected to a third term in 2020 running on a platform against “white nationalist gun violence.”
The ban also came shortly after Inslee signed into law a bill abolishing the death penalty, which he claimed to be racially biased.
“I initiated a moratorium against the death penalty in Washington state in 2014, and our rationale for that decision was affirmed by our state Supreme Court decision in 2018 when they invalidated the death penalty statute,” Inslee said on April 20 at a signing ceremony. “They made clear, and we know this to be true, that the penalty has been applied unequally and in a racially insensitive manner.”