OLYMPIA — Opponents of a new expanded gun background-check measure in Washington state filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday, asking a federal judge to block parts of the law that involve transfers of firearms.
The lawsuit was filed in district court in Tacoma and seeks a permanent injunction against enforcement of parts of Initiative 594 that deal with non-commercial transfers to private citizens. The measure was approved by voters in November.
The suit states that the law is “so vague that a person of ordinary intelligence cannot understand its scope, which renders it subject to arbitrary enforcement.”
I-594, which passed with 59 percent of the vote, created universal background checks for all sales, including those made online or at gun shows. It also required checks for all transfers, including many loans and gifts. The language surrounding those transfers has raised the most ire with opponents, who say it goes too far and infringes on people’s constitutional rights.
The measure has exceptions for emergency gun transfers concerning personal safety, gifts between family members, antiques and loans for hunting.
But the lawsuit notes that there are plenty of other scenarios where it’s not clear whether the new law would apply, such as when a gun is given to a FedEx carrier for shipping, or if a non-married couple who live together can share a weapon.
“The broad and poorly constructed restrictions in I-594 render the enactment unconstitutional,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit was filed by several groups, including the Second Amendment Foundation, the Northwest School of Safety, Puget Sound Security Inc., the Pacific Northwest Association of Investors, the Firearms Academy of Seattle, and six citizens, including Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb.
Voters in November rejected a rival measure that Gottlieb supported that would have prevented any expansion beyond the federal standard, which requires the checks for sales or transfers by licensed dealers but not for purchases from private sellers.
Named as defendants in the suit are Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste.
In an emailed statement, Ferguson said that his legal team had not yet seen the complaint. “As Attorney General, I look forward to vigorously defending the will of the voters and upholding Initiative 594,” he wrote.
Gottlieb said that the goal of the lawsuit is not to stop background checks, but to change the language surrounding the transfers. He said that by filing the lawsuit before the legislative session begins in January, he hoped lawmakers would take note.
“If the lawmakers were to amend 594 to take out the problems, it would render our suit moot and we’d be happy,” he said.
The lawsuit ensures that if lawmakers don’t take action, they will get their day in court, Gottlieb said.
“You can’t pass things that are unconstitutional and take people’s rights away,” he said. “That’s what courts are for. Checks and balances on the legislative process to make sure people’s rights aren’t violated.”
When the new law took effect earlier this month, Washington joined six other states and the District of Columbia with laws that require universal background checks for all sales and transfers of firearms, though it is the first to pass such a law through a citizen-driven initiative on the ballot.
Other states have varying laws on expansion beyond what federal law requires, including Oregon, which requires a background check for purchases at gun shows.