Lawsuits target constitutionality of voter-approved gun control measure in Washington state | 2019 Legislative Session

OLYMPIA – Two civil rights lawsuits in Washington state have challenged the constitutionality of certain bans enacted through the gun control measure, Initiative 1639.

Each lawsuit is built on the premise that the initiative deprives plaintiffs of rights under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The plaintiffs have remained the same for each case, whereas the defendants have been changed.

Two firearm dealers, four young adults and two gun rights organizations joined forces to originally file a complaint against the state of Washington and Attorney General Bob Ferguson. That case was dismissed on Feb. 20 on account of the state and Attorney General’s sovereign immunity, however, a new suit had already been filed on Feb. 8.

The new lawsuit featured the same plaintiffs — which include the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation — suing Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins, Spokane Chief of Police Craig Meidl and Director of the Washington State Department of Licensing Teresa Berntsen. Each defendant was summoned on behalf of their authority to revoke a license for violations of Washington laws governing sales of firearms.

Joel Ard, attorney of Ard Law Group representing the plaintiffs, explained how state authority can revoke a firearm license even though the action is legal under federal law.

“Craig Meidl has statutory responsibility under Washington state law to issue a state license to the firearm dealer, Robin Ball,” said Ard.

Ball, who is a plaintiff in the case, has a federal firearms license and another is a state license, which is issued and signed by Meidl, he explained.

Washington residents approved I-1639 by a vote of 59 percent last November. The law creates an enhanced background check system, requires individuals to complete a firearm safety training course, raises the age of possession to 21 years old, and establishes standards for safe storage of guns. It also redefines a semi-automatic rifle as an “assault rifle” under state law.

The plaintiffs accuse the defendants of acting under the cover of state law, otherwise defined as any authority using his or her power to willfully deprive a person of their rights and privileges protected by the U.S. Constitution. In this case, the violation challenges the civil rights of the plaintiffs guaranteed by the Second and Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the Commerce Clause.

Luke Rettmer, 19, Nathaniel Casey, 19, Armen Tooloee, 20, Matthew Wald, 19, referred to in the suit as the “Young Adult Plaintiffs,” may not purchase a pistol or rifle under the initiative until they reach 21 years of age. With support from the dealer plaintiffs, the young adults claim that the measure burdens their Second Amendment rights.

The dealer plaintiffs, Daniel Mitchell and Robin Ball, are suing the defendants under the Commerce Clause for their inability to sell rifles to non-residents of the state due to I-1639. According to the text of the lawsuit, 30 percent of the sales at Mitchell’s store were residents of other states, resulting in a loss of profit.

The National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation represent the Organizational Plaintiffs on behalf of their members.

Senior editor of the Second Amendment Foundation Dave Workman said that the lawsuit is still in federal court and the defendants have yet to respond.

“Most of the law doesn’t take effect until July 1,” said Workman. “The challenge right now is that these four young adults stripped of their Second Amendment rights cannot purchase any sort of semi-automatic gun.”

The three defendants have stated their intention to enforce the measure, including the bans on sales of self-loading rifles to young adults and non-residents, according to the text of the lawsuit.

Meidl and Atkins were unavailable for comment, and Meidl’s attorney refused to talk.

The Auditor’s Office is being represented by six attorneys from the Office of the Attorney General, which has promised to fight hard.

“I will defend Initiative 1639 against any legal challenge,” Ferguson said in an open letter to law enforcement officials. “My office defeated the legal challenge to the previous gun safety initiative passed by the people, and I am confident we will defeat any constitutional challenge to Initiative 1639 as well.”

Madeline Coats is a reporter with the WNPA Olympia News Bureau.

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