The small Whidbey Island city has so far refused to comply with Washington State’s model preemption statute and the Second Amendment Foundation has now advised the Oak Harbor mayor that it is preparing to sue to force the city to obey the law.
As this column reported Thursday, the city council, with Councilman Rick Almberg on point, tabled an effort to change the city’s park gun ban ordinance in December, three months after SAF had notified the city that it was violating state statute. SAF has advised several cities in Washington about local ordinances that conflict with the law, and so far, only Oak Harbor has “thumbed its nose” at the organization, according to Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb.
Almberg is the councilman who interrogated disabled veteran Lucas Yonkman during a recent council session about whether he was armed. After Yonkman volunteered that he was – despite the city attorney’s caution to the council that he had no obligation to be grilled by Almberg during a public comment period – Almberg made a motion to ban guns from the council meeting. When that failed, he left the meeting, as this video, which has gone viral on YouTube, clearly shows.
SAF used the preemption statute to bring down the City of Seattle after former Mayor Greg Nickels and current Mayor Mike McGinn attempted to circumvent the law and ban firearms in city park facilities. SAF won at both the trial court and appeals court levels and the State Supreme Court refused to take Seattle’s appeal.
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with, more restrictive than, or exceed the requirements of state law shall not be enacted and are preempted and repealed, regardless of the nature of the code, charter, or home rule status of such city, town, county, or municipality. - RCW 9.41.290
After speaking to Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley by telephone Thursday, Gottlieb fired off a strongly-worded letter to the city.
“It is appalling that Oak Harbor elected officials are refusing to remove these illegal local codes,” Gottlieb wrote, “and are thumbing their noses at the rule of law.”
Quoted by the Whidbey News Times, Almberg in December acknowledged that, “I know we are not consistent with state and federal law, but I’m not going to sit here and say it’s okay to carry guns in our city parks.”
He also contended at the time that some firearms laws are “out of step with common sense.” In Oak Harbor’s case, their firearms law is out of step with state statute and court precedent.
This column tried to reach Almberg via e-mail but he did not respond. Examiner has learned that he apparently did speak with the Los Angeles Times.
Gottlieb is giving the city one more opportunity to change its ordinance to comply with state law. Mayor Dudley told this column Wednesday that he will bring up the issue again Feb. 5. That meeting could be heavily attended by gun rights activists, some of whom may wind up being plaintiffs in a SAF legal action. Gottlieb made it clear that a costly lawsuit is a very strong possibility.
“I can assure you,” he wrote to Mayor Dudley, “that we already have individual plaintiffs lined up and will file suit against the city…and members of the city council if the city continues to flaunt the state statute.”
The mayor, who was appalled at Almberg’s interrogation of Yonkman and his subsequent abrupt departure from the meeting, is caught in the middle of the controversy. While he is being lauded on various firearms forums for his own conduct and the way he handled the issue, as the city’s top elected official, he would most likely be named as a defendant in any legal action.
It is this kind of problem – local communities adopting their own gun ordinances, often in conflict with neighboring jurisdictions – that prompted the state legislature to adopt a preemption statute 30 years ago. The statute was strengthened in 1985 and has stood ever since as a model for other state preemption laws around the country. SAF’s victory over Seattle last year added teeth to the law.
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