Article I, Section 24 of the Washington State Constitution states: “[t]he right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.”1

Washington courts have held that the right to bear arms is not absolute and is subject to reasonable regulation by the state under its police power. The Supreme Court of Washington has repeatedly rejected article I, § 24 challenges to state and local firearms regulations.2 The Courts of Appeals have also followed this approach.3

In its most comprehensive discussion to date of the scope of article I, § 24, the Supreme Court of Washington held, in City of Seattle v. Montana, that article I, § 24 is not absolute and is subject to reasonable regulation by the state under its police power.4 The court rejected an article I, § 24 challenge to a Seattle ordinance prohibiting the carrying of dangerous knives. In analyzing the challenge, the court noted that:

[A]n arms regulation must be a ‘reasonable limitation,’ one that is reasonably necessary to protect public safety or welfare, and substantially related to legitimate ends sought. This analysis requires balancing the public benefit from the regulation against the degree to which it frustrates the purpose of the constitutional provision. The constitutional text indicates the right is secured not because arms are valued per se, but only to ensure self-defense or defense of state. This suggests the constitutional right should be viewed in such a light. (citations omitted).5

The court upheld the Seattle ordinance as a “reasonable exercise of the police power to promote safety, peace and good order.”6

However, in State v. Spiers, a Washington appellate court struck down a law criminalizing firearm ownership by a person merely charged with a serious offense who has relinquished possession but retains ownership of a firearm.7 The court reasoned that the public does not derive any additional benefit from depriving a person free on bond or personal recognizance of ownership of a firearm if they have relinquished possession.8 As a result, this regulation failed the Montana balancing test.9

The Supreme Court of Washington has also reconciled the state right to bear arms with enhanced sentences for possession of firearms. In State v. Schelin, the Supreme Court of Washington held that requiring a nexus between the defendant, a weapon, and the crime for a sentence enhancement for being armed with a deadly weapon adequately protects the defendant’s “right to bear arms,” and noted that although defendant’s “right to bear firearms in his home is constitutionally protected, that right ceases when the purpose of bearing firearms is to further the commission of a crime.”10 Similarly, in State v. Eckenrode, the court upheld a deadly weapons enhancement, but stated, “In order to harmonize the legitimate state interest in imposing enhanced sentences on those who commit armed crimes and the constitutional guaranty of the right to bear arms, the State must establish a connection between the defendant, the crime, and the weapon.”11 Finally, in State v. Brown, the court vacated a deadly weapons sentence enhancement because there was an insufficient nexus between the defendant, a weapon, and the crime, stating, “Though the use of a weapon in the commission of a crime is not constitutionally protected, adherence to the nexus requirement is… important in harmonizing the mandatory sentence enhancements with the constitutional right to bear arms.”12

Notes
  1. Wash. Const. Art. I, § 24. ⤴︎
  2. See, e.g., Morris v. Blaker, 821 P.2d 482, 488 (Wash. 1992) (rejecting article I, § 24 challenge to revocation of defendant’s concealed weapons permit after defendant was involuntarily committed to a mental facility, stating that “[w]hile article 1, section 24 of the Washington State Constitution confers upon individuals of this state the right to bear arms, that right is not absolute and is subject to reasonable regulation by the State under its police power”); State v. Krantz, 164 P.2d 453, 454 (Wash. 1945) (rejecting defendant’s article I, § 24 challenge to the Uniform Short Firearms Act, noting that “[i]t has long been recognized that this constitutional guarantee is subject to reasonable regulation by the state under its police power”); and State v. Tully, 89 P.2d 517, 518 (Wash. 1939) (rejecting an article I, § 24 challenge to the Uniform Firearms Act because “[n]o authorities [were] cited in support of the contention that [the relevant statutory provisions] mentioned are violative of” article I, § 24). ⤴︎
  3. See, e.g., Estes v. Vashon Maury Island Fire Protection District No. 13, 2005 Wash. App. LEXIS 2575 (Wash. Ct. App. 2005) aff’d mem., 129 Wash. App. 1042 (Wash. 2005) (the benefit to public safety of fire protection district’s policy of prohibiting firearm possession by visitors on district property outweighs its effect on “the general right to bear arms” under article I, § 24); State v. Krzeszowski, 24 P.3d 485 (Wash. Ct. App. 2001) (statute prohibiting felons possessing firearms does not violate article I, § 24); State v. Spencer, 876 P.2d 939 (Wash. Ct. App. 1994) (conviction for brandishing a weapon did not violate article I, § 24); Second Amendment Found. v. City of Renton, 668 P.2d 596 (Wash. Ct. App. 1983) (ordinance prohibiting possession of firearms where alcohol is dispensed by the drink does not violate article I, § 24). ⤴︎
  4. 919 P.2d 1218 (Wash. 1996). ⤴︎
  5. Montana, 919 P.2d at 1224. ⤴︎
  6. Id. at 1223. ⤴︎
  7. 79 P.3d 30 (Wash. Ct. App. 2003). ⤴︎
  8. Id. at 35. ⤴︎
  9. Id. ⤴︎
  10. 55 P.3d 632, 639 (Wash. 2002). ⤴︎
  11. 150 P.3d 1116, 1120 (Wash. 2007). ⤴︎
  12. 173 P.3d 245, 250-251 (Wash. 2007). ⤴︎