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Edmonds councilmember secretly coordinates anti-gun bill with Seattle, gets sued

(File, Associated Press)

Edmonds City Councilmember Mike Nelson secretly – and at times, desperately – tried to coordinate with an anti-gun Seattle leader to craft gun storage legislation. He left at least some colleagues in the dark about his legislation and hasn’t responded to multiple requests for interview.

Now, the City of Edmonds is being sued over Nelson’s legislation.

Nelson, despite being a gun owner, has long been interested in legislation to further regulate guns in the City of Edmonds. Back in March of 2018, Nelson sought guidance from the anti-gun group Alliance for Gun Responsibility, according to documents obtained via public disclosure request.

Nelson was impatient, felt left out

Geoff Potter, Program and Policy Director for the Alliance, introduced Nelson to a staffer for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. The email reads:

Councilmember Mike Nelson, please meet Robert Feldstein, policy lead for Mayor Jenny Durkan. Robert, please meet Councilmember Nelson of Edmonds, a fantastic champion of gun responsibility. Mike led the passage of Edmonds’ own lost and stolen firearms ordinance as well a resolution supporting safe storage legislation at the state level.

Nelson asked to talk with Feldstein because he thought about “possibly modeling similar legislation in our city.” Over the course of the next couple weeks, Nelson eagerly tried to get an update on the City’s gun ordinance, but was getting “radio silence.”

“I am not holding out,” Feldstein promised Nelson via email. “Our lawyers are in conversation with outside counsel trying to get the bill correct before we’re sharing. So, except for some fancy whereas clauses (and those probably need lawyer vetting too!), I don’t have a version to share yet. But please keep pinging.”

RELATED: Read the email chain here

Over one month later, the legislation was released but Nelson was left in the dark. He emailed Feldstein asking “where is the love?” and said he was looking at the legislation from Seattle. Several days later, still without an email response from Feldstein, Nelson again emailed, proclaiming “I will be persuing [sic] similar ordinance in Edmonds. What is the expected timeline?”

No more emails came from Feldstein, according to the email documents submitted to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH from the City of Edmonds. So, Nelson looked for another connection.

Nelson makes a new best friend

Nelson next sought the time of Seattle’s leading anti-gun councilmember, Lorena Gonzalez, and he got it.

He emailed her on June 12 asking for a quick chat to discuss her Safe Storage ordinance, bragging that he’s a real player to get this kind of law passed, emailing:

Edmonds has some precedent for the this. Last year I was able to pass a similar Lost /Stolen Firearm ordinance based on Seattle’s. I talked with Tim Burgess and had our your city attorneys chat with your city attorneys beforehand

Gonzalez included a link to the materials she presented at Council, plus a link to a video where they discussed the bill.

She also agreed to meet with him. After exchanging some emails with staff, the meeting was set and held on June 20th at Seattle City Hall.

Nelson didn’t tip off colleagues

While Nelson was pursuing this legislation, he left at least some of his colleagues in the dark, even if they would almost all go on to support him (the ordinance passed 5-1).

I reached out to Edmonds Councilmember Diane Buckshnis about Nelson’s legislation when I learned he was working with Gonzalez, but before it was made public. Buckshnis supports gun control, emailing me “We have got to get assault rifles and bumper stock out of the hands of the general public.”

But, at the time, Buckshnis had not heard of Nelson’s legislation. That didn’t alarm her, though.

“I think it caught Councilmember [Kristiana] Johnson off guard,” Buckshnis told me. “Personally, to each his own is how I look at it. I was unaware… but i was out of town.”

Johnson voted against the ordinance, but explained via email that “I am very sorry but I have been advised to give no comments at this time.”

Since it’s passage, she says she’s heard from a number of constituents and that the reaction has been mixed.

If you’re going to use Seattle to mimic your legislation after, I suppose you shouldn’t be surprised when you face the exact same lawsuit they did. In fact, that’s what happened.

They get sued

The Second Amendment Foundation, the National Rifle Association, and two Edmonds residents filed lawsuit against the City of Edmonds. Seattle faces a similar lawsuit.

“It is clear to us that a handful of cities are trying desperately to erode Washington’s long-standing preemption law,” said SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb said in a press release. “Their goal is to discourage citizens from exercising their rights under the state and federal constitutions by financial intimidation. The city council clearly understands preemption, but went ahead with this ordinance, anyway, undoubtedly knowing it would be overturned by the court. It seems as though their ultimate goal is to convince voters that gun law uniformity is somehow a bad idea, so it should be changed.”

The lawsuit alleges the ordinance violates Washington’s preemption statute — RCW 9.41.290. It essentially states that local jurisdictions — cities and counties — cannot enact gun control laws that are more strict than the state. The full text 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.

At the time of the Seattle lawsuit, former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna explained to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that he believes “…the question will be … whether or not this kind of regulation, the storage of firearms, is going to preempted or not?”

“The question is already being asked and I assume the city attorney’s office is already analyzing it,” McKenna explained. “The word ‘storage’ is not in there. So I imagine [Seattle] will say ‘Look, we can impose this requirement that you have to safely store your firearms because we are not talking about transporting them, buying or selling them.’”

“I assume they’ll make the argument that the state statute does not address storage,” he said. “Now it does address possession and one could argue that storage is an aspect of possession.”

Councilmember Johnson voted against the ordinance, fearing such a lawsuit would take place, according to MyEdmondsNews.

For the action in Edmonds, Gottlieb argues Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson should have gotten involved.

“Unfortunately, he is more interested his political agenda and attacking people on his political enemies list, so the constitutional rights of Washington citizens come last,” wrote Gottlieb.

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