Local regulatory authority is derived from Article XI, section 11 of the Washington State Constitution, which provides that “[a]ny county, city, town or township may make and enforce within its limits all such local police, sanitary and other regulations as are not in conflict with general laws.”1
The Washington Legislature, however, has limited the authority of local governments to regulate firearms. Washington Revised Code Ann. section 9.41.290 states:
“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with, more restrictive than, or exceed the requirements of state law shall not be enacted and are preempted and repealed, regardless of the nature of the code, charter, or home rule status of such city, town, county, or municipality.”
Under section 9.41.110(12), every city, town, and political subdivision of the state is prohibited from requiring the purchaser of a firearm to secure a permit to purchase, or from requiring a firearms dealer to secure an individual permit for each sale.
Additionally, section 9.41.300(2) provides that cities, towns, counties and other municipalities may enact ordinances restricting:
- The discharge of firearms in any portion of their respective jurisdiction where there is a reasonable likelihood that humans, domestic animals, or property will be jeopardized.
- The possession of firearms in any stadium or convention center, operated by a city, town, county, or other municipality, except that such restriction shall not apply to:
- Any pistol in the possession of a person licensed to do so under state law or exempt from the licensing requirement
- Any showing, demonstration, or lecture involving the exhibition of firearms.
Further, under section 9.41.300(3), cities, towns, and counties may:
- Enact ordinances restricting the areas in which firearms may be sold, but a business selling firearms may not be treated more restrictively than other businesses located within the same zone. An ordinance requiring the cessation of business within a zone shall not have a shorter grandfather period for businesses selling firearms than for any other businesses within the zone
- Restrict the location of a business selling firearms to not less than 500 feet from primary or secondary school grounds, if the business has a storefront, has hours during which it is open for business, and posts advertisements or signs observable to passers-by that firearms are available for sale. A business selling firearms that exists as of the date a restriction is enacted under this provision shall be grandfathered according to existing law.
Despite the limitations of section 9.41.290, the Supreme Court of Washington has held that this section was not intended to preempt reasonable rules regarding the possession of weapons in the public workplace.2 In Cherry v. Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle, the court held that a municipal employer has the authority to regulate or prohibit employee possession of firearms while on the job.3 The court noted that section 9.41.290 “was enacted to reform that situation in which counties, cities, and towns could each enact conflicting local criminal codes regulating the general public’s possession of firearms.”4 As such, section 9.41.290 was not intended to preempt “the authority of a municipal employer to regulate or prohibit a municipal employee’s possession of firearms while on the job or in the workplace.”5
Moreover, Washington courts have upheld local ordinances on the ground that they do not regulate firearms within the meaning of section 9.41.290. In Watson v. City of Seattle, the Washington Supreme Court upheld a city ordinance that imposed a tax on firearms and ammunition sales. The court held that section 9.41.290 does not apply to the taxation of firearm sales because taxation does not constitute a “regulation” of firearms.6 In addition, in Kitsap County v. Kitsap Rifle & Revolver Club, an appellate court upheld a county code provision requiring a permit to operate a firearms shooting facility, finding that the provision was not a firearm “regulation” within the meaning of section 9.41.290.7 The Kitsap court also found that the county requirement that a firearms shooting facility obtain a permit to operate was not preempted because it falls within the scope of the statutory exception to the preemption of local firearms regulation provided by section 9.41.300 allowing political subdivisions to regulate the discharge of firearms to protect humans and property.8
In Pacific Northwest Shooting Park Ass’n v. City of Sequim, the Supreme Court of Washington held that a city may indeed impose permit restrictions on private party gun sales at a gun show located in the city’s convention center. The court reasoned that the authority to regulate sales of firearms in a city’s convention center was necessarily included within section 9.41.300(2)’s grant of authority to regulate possession at that location, and that a gun show is not a “showing, demonstration, or lecture involving the exhibition of firearms.”9 The court further reasoned that section 9.41.290 only prohibits “laws and ordinances,” and does not prohibit a municipal property owner from imposing permit conditions related to firearms for the use of its property.10
In contrast, however, a Washington appellate court held in Chan v. City of Seattle that the “plain language” of sections 9.41.290 and 9.41.300 preempted Seattle’s regulation of the possession of firearms at designated park areas and park facilities open to the public.11 The court found that section 9.41.300 did not allow the city to regulate firearms in parks and park facilities open to the public, and the city was not acting as the proprietor of a business enterprise for private advantage in adopting the firearms rule.12 Moreover, the court asserted that neither Cherry nor Pacific Northwest Shooting Park Ass’n. supports the argument that Seattle has the authority to regulate the possession of firearms at designated park areas and park facilities open to the public.13
Washington courts have also upheld local authority to regulate the discharge of firearms. In City of Seattle v. Ballsmider, a Washington appellate court held that an ordinance prohibiting discharge of a firearm in Seattle did not violate section 9.41.290.14
For state laws regarding lawsuits against the gun industry, see our page on Immunity Statutes in Washington.
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- Wash. Const. Art. XI, § 11.
- Cherry v. Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle, 808 P.2d 746, 750 (Wash. 1991).
- Cherry, 808 P.2d at 750. See also Estes v. Vashon Maury Island Fire Protection District No. 13, 2005 Wash. App. LEXIS 2575 (Wash. Ct. App. 2005) aff’d mem., 129 Wash. App. 1042 (Wash. 2005) (fire protection district’s policy of prohibiting firearm possession by visitors on district property does not constitute a law that is penal in nature and therefore falls outside the scope of the criminal firearms regulations governed, and preempted, by § 9.41.290).
- 401 P.3d 1, 12-14 (Wash. 2017).
- 405 P.3d 1026, 1034 (Wash. 2017), appeal denied, Kitsap County v. Kitsap Rifle & Revolver Club, 415 P.3d 1198 Wash. 2018).
- Id. at 1034.
- 144 P.3d 276, 282-83 (Wash. 2006).
- Id. at 283.
- 164 Wash. App. 549, 562 (Wash. Ct. App. 2011).
- Chan, 164 Wash. App. at 565.
- Id. at 563.
- 856 P.2d 1113 (Wash. Ct. App. 1993.