Here's the background: the Washington state legislature has, with very few exceptions, instructed cities and municipalities that they shall not regulate firearms because state laws are sufficient. The relevant law says: "The state of Washington hereby fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state... Cities, towns, and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to firearms that are specifically authorized by state law."
Nevertheless, Seattle mayor Greg Nickels, a Democrat, signed an executive order last year directing government agencies to ban guns -- except, of course, for police -- from city property. A more detailed list published last month says that firearms will be banned from parks, golf courses, beaches, playgrounds, athletic fields, and so on. The final rule was signed on October 14.
Nickels allowed no exceptions for law-abiding Washington state residents who have undergone background checks and obtained permits to carry concealed weapons. There are no specific criminal penalties for violating Seattle's regulations, but violations would be treated as trespassing and residents are urged to call 911 if they spot one of their fellow citizens who may be armed.
This alarmed the Second Amendment Foundation, conveniently located in nearby Bellevue, which filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against Nickels and the city of Seattle that was joined by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and the National Rifle Association.
The SAF has enlisted six state residents as plaintiffs, including two Department of Corrections employees who live or work in Seattle, are licensed to carry handguns, and say they have legitimate fears about "retaliation from people" encountered at work. Two other plaintiffs are active in the local gay community (Ray Carter co-chaired Seattle's pride parade in the 1990s).
An unusual aspect of the case, and one reason the SAF stands a good chance of winning, is that the Washington attorney general has already weighed in with an 11-page analysis saying Seattle's regulations are completely illegal.
The analysis, written in October 2008, says that state law "preempts a city's authority to enact local laws that prohibit possession of firearms on city property or in city-owned facilities." Note this isn't a constitutional challenge, so there's no need for the King County, Wash. superior court to wait and see how the U.S. Supreme Court disposes of the McDonald v. Chicago case.
Alex Fryer, a spokesman for Nickels, told CBSNews.com: "We are prepared to defend the policy in court. We have outside counsel working pro bono." That law firm is Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, which the National Law Journal says is the 23rd largest in the nation. Orrick is no friend of Second Amendment advocates; it's represented plaintiffs in suits against gun manufacturers and was one of the firms honored at a Legal Community Against Violence dinner this summer. (LCAV claims that the "Second Amendment imposes no barrier to state and local regulation of firearms.")
Still, even if the lawyering was free, why did Mayor Nickels go ahead after such a stern rebuke from the attorney general? During a speech in San Jose, Calif. on Thursday evening, SAF founder Alan Gottlieb suggested that it was because Nickels has lost his primary bid for reelection and has little more to lose, and noted that Nickels is active in New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's controversial coalition.
Maybe. After all, supporting restrictive anti-gun measures, as San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom did a few years back, sure didn't hurt his chances for higher office; Newsom is now an official candidate for governor. One difference, perhaps, is that Newsom was a canny enough politician to actually get himself re-elected.
Declan McCullagh is a correspondent for CBSNews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and is on Twitter as declanm. You can bookmark the Taking Liberties site here, or subscribe to the RSS feed.