Judge sides with gun shop challenging Washington ban on high-capacity ammo magazines

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Washington’s ban on the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines briefly lapsed on Monday with a Cowlitz County judge declaring it unconstitutional. 

But before firearm dealers could ramp up sales again, lawyers with the Washington attorney general’s office rushed to the state Supreme Court, where they secured an order that put the lower court ruling on hold and kept the prohibition intact.

Superior Court Judge Gary Bashor issued the blistering 55-page decision. He concluded the nearly two-year-old ban violated the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and part of the Washington Constitution granting individuals a right to bear arms for self-defense.

“It is logically inconceivable that an item that is constitutionally protected to possess could be prohibited from sale to the very people who have the protected right to possess,” he wrote.

Bashor’s ruling blocked Washington authorities from enforcing the law, clearing the way for restoration of sales of ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. But not long after the judge’s decision came down on Monday, Supreme Court Commissioner Michael Johnston temporarily paused it while the state seeks further consideration of the case by the state Supreme Court.

“This law is constitutional. Today’s decision is incorrect,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “This law saves lives, and I will continue to defend it.”

The decision comes in a dispute between the state and a firearms retailer – Gator’s Custom Guns in Kelso, along with the business’ owner Walter Wentz. 

Gator’s challenged the ban on high-capacity magazines after it went into effect in July 2022. Ferguson followed up with an enforcement action, alleging the shop had violated state law by continuing to sell the prohibited magazines.

Pete Serrano, an attorney with Silent Majority Foundation who represented Wentz, described his client as “extremely excited. It’s a battle he’s long been entrenched in.”

He called Bashor’s ruling very thorough.

“He wanted to cover his bases. I don’t think he wants to get overturned,” said Serrano, who is a candidate for state attorney general this year.

In his decision, Bashor outlined why the state law does not comply with a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the past 15 years, including one in 2022 that requires gun restrictions to be consistent with the nation’s “historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

“The State posits gun violence and mass shootings as an unprecedented societal concern and large capacity magazines as a dramatic technology change,” the judge wrote. “Neither argument is convincing.” 

Ferguson, in his statement, said every court in Washington and across the country to consider challenges to a ban on the sale of large capacity magazines under the U.S. or Washington constitution “has either rejected that challenge or been overruled.”

Washington’s ban is the subject of two other lawsuits, both pending in federal courts. 

One case, filed in the Eastern District of Washington, was brought by Gimme Guns represented by Serrano. The other, filed in the Western District of Washington, was brought by Rainier Arms as well as the Second Amendment Foundation and Firearms Policy Coalition.

Both cases are on hold pending the outcome of a challenge to California’s prohibition on large capacity ammunition magazines that is in front of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

This story was initially published by Washington State Standard, a nonprofit news organization and part of the States News network, covering state issues. Read more at washingtonstatestandard.com.

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