By Dave Workman
The Tacoma, Wash. city council voted to require that commercial gun shows held in the famous Tacoma Dome – a city-owned facility – conduct background checks on all firearms transactions, a mandate that appears to be legal under a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling.
Firearms rights activists don’t care for the requirement, but there appears little that can be done, even though Washington was among the first states to adopt a preemption law that has become a model for similar statutes across the country.
Tacoma’s decision is probably legal under a 2006 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Pacific Northwest Shooting Park Association v. City of Sequim. PNSPA sued the city and its police chief, Byron Nelson, alleging “tortious interference” with a contractual relationship between the organization and the city to use the city’s convention center for a gun show, claiming that the city’s actions violated the state preemption law, according to the Supreme Court ruling.
PNSPA lost the case when the state high court, in a divided ruling, said the city could exercise discretion as a property owner and mandate certain requirements on the leasing of public property for a business function.
This is different than what occurred with the City of Seattle’s attempt to ban firearms from city park facilities, in that this was an attempted general ban on the right to bear arms, which is protected by the state constitution and prohibited by the 1983 preemption statute.
When Seattle tried to adopt the gun ban as an administrative rule, a lawsuit was filed by the Second Amendment Foundation, National Rifle Association, Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Washington Arms Collectors and five individual plaintiffs. The city lost at trial and again when the state court of appeals unanimously ruled against the ban. The state Supreme Court refused to take the city’s appeal, allowing the appellate ruling to stand.
Had Tacoma tried to extend the background check requirement to gun shows held on private property anywhere in the city, there might have been a strong case against the action, as a violation of the preemption law. Federal law currently stipulates that private transfers are not subject to background checks.
The Seattle Times quoted Tacoma resident Leanne Kennedy, speaking in favor of the resolution, who said, “It takes an extraordinary amount of courage to be the parent of a Newtown first-grader who died…to wake up with that kind of hole in their heart.”
City Councilman Ryan Mello, according to the Tacoma News Tribune, contended, “In the face of inaction by state and federal lawmakers our community cannot wait. We have a gaping hole in state and federal policy.”
However, gun rights advocates quickly countered that the real “hole” in both of their statements was that Newtown gunman Adam Lanza didn’t bother with a background check. After murdering his mother, he took her legally-obtained guns, for which she passed a background check, and used those firearms in the Sandy Hook attack. That attack occurred in Connecticut, which already had some of the toughest gun laws in the country at the time. Since the tragedy, Connecticut lawmakers have passed even stricter gun laws, against heated opposition.
It was also noted that, with the exception of Newtown’s Lanza, all of the gunmen who launched attacks at the Seattle Jewish Federation and Café Racer, the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard, both Fort Hood shootings, Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Colo., and Tucson, Ariz., passed background checks.
Also, none of the acquired their guns at gun shows.