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Spokane tiptoeing around state preemption on local firearm regulations

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(The Center Square) – Despite Washington almost entirely preempting local municipalities from enacting local firearm regulations, the City of Spokane may do just that.

Earlier this week, a draft ordinance reached Spokane’s Public Safety & Community Health Committee that would create a new chapter for the city’s municipal code entitled “Firearms and Dangerous Weapons.”

The new chapter could essentially make it illegal to discharge a firearm within Spokane’s city limits, with reasonable exceptions, and prohibit the possession of a weapon in any stadium or convention center; additionally, it would outlaw the open carry of a firearm in any public building used for government meetings, among other things.

While state law does provide some loopholes, such as the ability to enact ordinances restricting the possession of weapons in stadiums or convention centers, Kirk Evans, attorney and president of U.S. LawShield, said Spokane’s lack of clarity might go too far.

“Typically, when municipalities enact these codes, they would say a public building owned or operated by Spokane or Spokane County,” Evans said.

However, Spokane’s officials were vague, which he said could come back to haunt them. The draft only included that language when it said, “stadium or convention center operated by the city or other municipal or public corporation.”

Evans said the lack of definitions is very concerning; there’s no mention of what the city considers a “public corporation,” though the state defines it as an entity formed by a municipality.

The biggest issue he saw with the drafted regulations was the use of “any public building” and “without limitation,” despite not defining the phrases when restricting the open carry of a weapon.

“It is unlawful for any person to knowingly open carry a firearm or other weapon, as defined in RCW 9.41.010, any public building used in connection with meetings of the governing body of the City of Spokane or Spokane County. For purposes of this section, “governing body” shall have the same meaning as in RCW 42.30.020, and includes, without limitation, the Spokane City Council, or other policy or rule making body of the City of Spokane or Spokane County,” according to the draft.

Evans said “public building” could include almost anywhere, even if a governing body only met there once; however, the ordinance never clarified whether a single meeting at one location would constitute an outright ban on open carrying there moving forward.

Washington Administrative Code 246-203-160 defines a public building as “any theater, show-house, public hall, public meeting place, public transportation terminal, or any other public building not covered by specific regulations.”

Since the draft lacked a definition, Evans said the city might rely on others, such as the sanitation code above.

Additionally, the regulation states, “‘governing body’ shall have the same meaning as in RCW 42.30.020,” which includes any “multimember board, commission, committee, council, or other policy or rule-making body of a public agency, or any committee thereof when the committee acts on behalf of the governing body, conducts hearings, or takes testimony or public comment.”

The state’s definition of “public agency” then includes any county, city, school district or other political subdivision of Washington and any of those public entities’ policy groups or sub-agencies.

State law does require, though, that any meeting of a governing body held in a non-municipal building only prohibit open-carry during that meeting.

“I guarantee you, all around the country, there are laws like these where you have a half a dozen people who get charged, you know, do some type of plea bargain, get probation, pay a small fine,” Evans said, “and you never even hear a word about it.”

While the City of Spokane will likely make clarifications before adopting any local firearm regulations, Evans said without definitions, residents will likely have difficulty understanding its true extent until someone is convicted.