Washington state gun owners will continue to enjoy a full selection of ammunition magazines if a pair of national gun-rights groups get their way in court.
The Washington-based Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), along with the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), filed a lawsuit against Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D.) and several other officials in federal court on Friday. The suit alleges that the state’s recently passed ban on the manufacture and sale of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds is unconstitutional.
“The State of Washington has criminalized one of the most common and important means by which its citizens can exercise their fundamental right of self-defense,” the complaint states. “By banning manufacturing, importation, distribution, and sale of standard-capacity firearm magazines that can carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition (“standard capacity magazines”), the State has barred law-abiding residents from legally acquiring common ammunition magazines and deprived them of an effective means of self-defense.”
Attorney General Ferguson’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit arrives just as the national conversation surrounding gun laws has reignited. A successful verdict for the plaintiffs would undo a policy long sought after by gun-control activists just as they’ve begun to make a new legislative push at the federal level and in several states across the country. Such a ruling could deal a blow to President Joe Biden’s (D.) policy aspirations. The President has long favored a national ban on ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds.
The suit marks just the latest challenge to restrictive state legislation by a national gun-rights group. Such groups have long intervened in states where political opposition to gun control is generally limited by the partisan breakdown of local legislatures.
“This is another important case in our FPC Law strategic litigation program that seeks to restore the right to keep and bear arms for all peaceable people,” Brandon Combs, President of FPC, said in a press release. “The State of Washington is not exempt from the Constitution.”
The plaintiffs argue that the new Washington law erroneously dubs certain magazines “high-capacity” when they in fact often come standard with many common rifles and handguns on the civilian market. They also claim a ban will not produce any noticeable public safety benefit.
“As we note in the lawsuit, there is no reliable proof that restrictions on new manufacturing or sales of such magazines will reduce violent crime,” Alan M. Gottlieb, SAF founder, said in a statement. “This law unfairly and arbitrarily penalizes honest citizens for crimes they didn’t commit, in the hopes of preventing crimes they wouldn’t dream of committing.”
SB 5078, the law being challenged by the suit, proved controversial even before litigation began. It was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee (D.) earlier this year, over vocal opposition from gun-rights supporters, after similar efforts by gun-control activists in the state failed in six previous legislative sessions.
Despite the victory for gun-control activists, the gun-rights community mobilized after the bill was signed into law. Due to the fact that the law does not prohibit possession of previously owned magazines, and because it does not take effect until July 1, major firearm-accessory manufacturers and distributors have publicly led an effort to prioritize magazine sales to the state ahead of the deadline.
Challenges to magazine capacity restrictions have enjoyed mixed success in recent years. Both a federal district court and a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have struck down a similar ban in California. An en banc panel for the Ninth Circuit later reversed those decisions and upheld the ban last November.
That decision is awaiting review by the Supreme Court.