Washington assault weapon sales ban survives 2nd Amendment challenge
(CN) — A new Washington state ban on the sale of assault weapons, signed into law in April by Democratic Governor Jay Inslee, has survived a challenge by gun owners and dealers who claimed the law violated their constitutional rights under the Second Amendment.
From a courtroom in Tacoma on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan, a Reagan appointee, denied the challengers' request for an injunction that would have blocked enforcement of the law pending further court challenges.
Bryan used the so-called Bruen test — articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court articulated last year to determine whether a gun law can survive Second Amendment scrutiny — in evaluating the law, state House Bill 1240.
Judging it by that standard, Bryan found the new sales ban was consistent with "the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation."
"HB 1240’s proponents convincingly point to regulations on trap guns, bowie knives, clubs, slungshots, multi-shot revolvers, and automatic weapons (like the Thompson submachine gun or “Tommy Gun”) as historical examples of weapons that, after being invented [...] began to be used for interpersonal violence," Bryan said in his ruling.
Then, in those other cases, "States regulated the weapons," Bryan added.
With Governor Inslee's signature in April, Washington became the 10th U.S. state to ban the sale of assault weapons. HB 1240 does not prohibit the possession of assault weapons, allowing Washington state residents who already own guns such as an AR-15, AK-47 or M16 to keep them legally.
In a statement at the time, Inslee thanked legislators and advocates for working to support the bill and took aim at the gun industry.
"Today, Washington state is putting the gun industry in its place," Inslee said, "and improving the health, safety and lives of our residents."
The law, which went into effect immediately, defines assault weapons as civilian versions of military-grade firearms designed to kill people quickly and efficiently by using features that allow guns to fire large numbers of rounds rapidly. The bill notes such weapons have been used in the deadliest mass shootings over the last decade, as shooters with assault weapons can injure and kill twice as many people than those using a handgun or non-assault rifle.
"Considering the exceptional dangerousness of these weapons, the public interest in their regulation by the State outweighs the Plaintiffs’ desire to purchase more assault weapons," Bryan said in Tuesday's decision. "In light of recent mass deaths caused by assailants using assault weapons, it is appropriate for governmental bodies to find ways to protect the public from dangerous weapons, within the limits of the Second Amendment."
An attorney for the plaintiffs that sued to overturn the law didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.
Last year's Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, which held the Second Amendment covered the right to carry a firearm in public, was widely regarded as a setback to gun regulation.
Still, the decision has allowed for gun restrictions that are consistent with historic practices — including in Illinois and now in Washington.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh — joined by Chief Justice John Roberts — wrote a concurring opinion in Bruen that spoke to limits of the court’s ruling. The Trump appointee stressed that he saw a possibility for gun regulations that conformed with the Second Amendment.
“As Heller and McDonald established and the Court today again explains, the Second Amendment ‘is neither a regulatory straightjacket nor a regulatory blank check,’” Kavanaugh wrote. “Properly interpreted, the Second Amendment allows a ‘variety’ of gun regulations.”