Can Tacoma City Council require background checks for gun sales on city property?

Tacoma Dome gun shows on hold while organizer researches legal options

Staff writerMay 16, 2014 

Shotguns and rifles are on display for sale April 13 during the Wes Knodel Gun Show at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds in Centralia.

STEVE BLOOM — The Olympian Buy Photo

Last month, Oregon resident Wes Knodel hosted a show at the Tacoma Dome that did not require background checks for anyone buying a firearm from a private seller. The show was held just minutes from another gun show, hosted by Washington Arms Collectors, which requires a state background check before all gun purchases.

The City Council voted May 6 to close the so-called “gun show loophole,” at least on property owned or managed by the city.

Since then, the Tacoma City Council members say they have heard almost all positive feedback on their decision.

That changed Tuesday night when two men said they disagreed with the council’s action — and Arlington resident Jacob Kukuk said he planned to sue the city to reverse the decision.

The speakers cited a state law that prevents local governments from passing firearm regulations stronger than state law, with narrow exception. The state preemption law, RCW 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…
When contacted Friday, Kukuk said he thinks the council overstepped its authority, and he is evaluating unspecified legal options.

“Firearm laws are bigger than a city council, and they belong at the state level,” he said.

Anyone who challenges the city could face an uphill legal battle, however.

City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli said at Tuesday’s meeting that the City Council has the law on its side: “The city has a right, as private owners, to regulate the use of its facility. It is not a regulation that runs afoul of the state preemption law.”

State law RCW 9.41.300 outlines where local governments can prohibit gun possession or sales, such as jails, prisons, bars and mental health facilities.

In 2006, the state Supreme Court ruled in Pacific Northwest Shooting Park Association v. City of Sequim that local governments may prevent private sales of firearms through permit restrictions on events held on city-owned property. Per the ruling:

However, RCW 9.41.290 and .300 together explicitly allow cities, towns, counties, and municipalities to enact laws and ordinances restricting firearm possession in stadiums and convention centers they operate. Logic dictates that one must possess a firearm in order to “show” and “sell” a firearm
Dave Workman, spokesman for the Second Amendment Foundation, wrote in a column for thegunmag.com that the council’s resolution was “probably legal.”

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.
In a recent interview, Workman said: “I’m not sure if (the council’s decision) would run afoul of the state preemption law. If it’s challenged in court we are certainly going to find that out.”

Meanwhile, Knodel, the gun show host, said he was ready to comply with the council’s restrictions. Before his April show even opened its doors, Knodel wanted to book five more at the Dome. By all accounts his first show was a success. More than 6,000 people paid the $10 entrance fee. Of the 152 vendors, only 12 were private sellers who could sell guns without a background check.

But Friday Knodel said he is “researching legal options.”

“I don’t want to aid the city in breaking state law,” he said.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542
kate.martin@thenewstribune.com
@KateReports

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