By Dave Workman
The Second Amendment Foundation has scored a high-publicity victory over a city parks gun ban that became the focus of national attention thanks to a YouTube video and state preemption law in Washington that became a national model three decades ago.
The City of Oak Harbor, on Washington’s Whidbey Island, repealed a lingering ordinance that prohibited firearms in city parks after SAF brought the conflict with state law to the city’s attention three months ago. But it did not come without national attention, generated by the video of a Jan. 15 council session in which Councilman Rick Almberg left the meeting after learning that a citizen, Lucas Yonkman, was legally armed.
Yonkman spoke at that meeting after learning the council had tabled an effort to bring the city into compliance with state preemption after SAF sent a letter to the city pointing to the problem. SAF legally sued the City of Seattle three years ago in an action joined by the National Rifle Association, Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Washington Arms Collectors and five private citizens.
That lawsuit revolved around the same issue, a ban on guns – including those legally carried openly or concealed – in city park facilities. Seattle lost at trial and unanimously before the state court of appeals. The State Supreme Court declined to review that case, thus reinforcing the preemption law, which was first adopted in 1983 and reinforced in 1985. That law has been the model for similar statutes across the country.
Last year, as part of a pilot project by SAF, local governments in Washington and Virginia were advised if they had local ordinances that conflicted with state law. SAF Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb told TGM at the time that this was something of an off-shoot from the organization’s campaign to “Win Firearms Freedom One Lawsuit at a Time.” In this case, he was hopeful that letters, rather than lawsuits, would win the day.
In most cases, they did. But in Oak Harbor, Almberg moved to table an effort to repeal the parks gun ban at a council session in late December. That set up Yonkman’s appearance in January, and was the catalyst for the showdown that followed.
Gottlieb spoke by telephone to Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley, who repeatedly said he had no problem with armed citizens in the council meeting sessions. At one point on the controversial video, he even suggested that he felt safer.
After that chat, Gottlieb sent a second letter to the city, advising that he would pursue legal action if the city did not repeal the ban ordinance. Mayor Dudley put the issue on the agenda for Feb. 5, and that brought gun rights activists from as far away as Tacoma to testify.
Councilman Bob Severns moved to declare a legislative emergency to protect public property and public peace, making the repeal immediate. However, the motion also may have opened up the possibility for the city to call on the state legislature to change the preemption law allowing local governments to prohibit firearms in certain areas, including parks and city buildings. At least one citizen called on the Oak Harbor council to do exactly that.
Eroding state preemption has been high on the anti-gun wish list for many years in Washington and other states. Since the Evergreen State provided a model for such statutes, the Seattle case was closely watched by gun prohibitionists across the map.
When Seattle’s gambit failed, it actually strengthened the notion of state preemption.
Now, however, there may be an attempt to put an initiative on the ballot to repeal all or part of the preemption law, because that kind of campaign would be driven by emotion rather than fact.