Judge rules Washington high-capacity magazine law unconstitutional

Attorney General Bob Ferguson has vowed to keep the ban alive, and the state Supreme Court has allowed it to stay in place for now.

a pair of hands holding a high capacity magazine

Jonathan Scalise, owner of Ammunition Storage Components in New Britain, Conn., holds a 30-round magazine that his company manufacturers for the AR-15 rifle on a production bench, in a 2013 photo. A state Superior Court judge ruled that Washington’s ban on high-capacity magazines is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Washington’s recent efforts to strengthen its gun laws have taken a few steps forward, one step back.

Last year the Legislature passed a ban on the sale, import and distribution of assault-style semiautomatic weapons. The 2023 session also saw the passage of legislation mandating safety training and a 10-day waiting period for all gun buyers. In 2022, legislators finally passed a law banning high-capacity magazines for guns after several years of failed tries.

The step back came April 8 when a Cowlitz County Superior Court judge ruled that the state’s ban on high-capacity magazines is unconstitutional. The law remains in place for now, however, because of an emergency stay issued by the state Supreme Court shortly after the lower court ruling, meaning Washington residents still cannot purchase high-capacity magazines.

In September 2023, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued Gator’s Custom Guns in Kelso alleging the store had offered more than 11,400 high-capacity magazines for sale since the state ban went into effect in July 2022.

Cowlitz Superior Court judge Gary Bashor ruled Monday that Washington’s ban on magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition violated the state and U.S. Constitutions. In a press release following the ruling, Ferguson called the decision “incorrect” and filed the successful motion to the state Supreme Court for a temporary stay of ruling.

“Every court in Washington and across the country to consider challenges to a ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines under the U.S. or Washington Constitution has either rejected that challenge or been overruled. This law is constitutional. It is also essential to addressing mass shootings in our communities. This law saves lives, and I will continue to defend it,” said Ferguson in the release.

Supporters argued that banning high-capacity magazines would save lives during mass shootings because ammunition storage and feeding devices with limited capacity force shooters to stop and reload more frequently, giving people time to escape or possibly disarm the shooter.

A 2020 Cascade PBS/Elway Poll found that statewide, 65% of respondents favored regulating or banning high-capacity magazines. Despite that, it took several years of failed attempts for the proposal to become law.

Gator’s Guns is not the first gun store the attorney general’s office has sued for violating the state ban. In February, Federal Way Discounts Guns settled with the state for $3 million after selling nearly 4,000 high-capacity magazines after the law took effect, according to KUOW.

Washington’s high-capacity magazine ban is also facing two legal challenges in U.S. District Court. A lawsuit brought by Selah’s Gimme Guns and the Silent Majority Foundation is pending in the court’s Eastern Washington District. A lawsuit brought by Auburn’s Rainier Arms, the Second Amendment Foundation and Firearms Policy Coalition is pending in the court’s Western Washington District. Both cases are stayed until a case in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals over a lawsuit against California’s high-capacity magazine ban is settled.

The state Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing on April 17 to examine the emergency stay on Judge Bashor’s ruling.

The Attorney General’s Office is also planning to file a separate brief with the state Supreme Court arguing the case should go directly to Washington’s highest court rather than through the Court of Appeals. A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office said that briefing is due April 23.

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