St. Sen., 32nd District
4801 Fremont Avenue North
Seattle, Washington 98103
Cite as: AGO 1982 No. 14
By letter previously acknowledged you requested our opinion on several questions relating to the ability of a county, city or town to regulate the sale or possession of firearms. Specifically, you asked:
1. May a municipality or county prohibit the sale or possession of a handgun within its jurisdiction?
2. May a municipality or county require the presentation of a
con‑ cealed weapons permit as a condition to the sale of handgun ammunition?
[Orig. Op. Page 2]
3. May a municipality or county prohibit the possession of a fire‑arm on the grounds of elementary, secondary and post‑secondary campuses (public and private) located within their jurisdiction?
We answer your first and second questions in the negative and your third question in the affirmative
for the reasons set forth in our analysis.
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Finally, you have asked:
May a municipality or county prohibit the possession of a firearm on grounds of elementary, secondary and post-secondary campuses (public and private) located within their jurisdiction?
Before addressing this question, however, we would call to your attention the legislature's recent enactment of a similar, although less encompassing (in that it applies only to students) provision which is now in effect statewide. We have reference to § 4, chapter 47, Laws of 1982, 1st Ex. Sess. by which the legislature added the following new section to chapter 9.41 RCW:
"(1) It is unlawful for an elementary or secondary school student under the age of twenty-one knowingly to carry onto public or private elementary or secondary school premises:
"(a) Any firearm; or
"(b) Any dangerous weapon as defined in RCW 9.41.250; or
"(c) Any device commonly known as 'nun-chu-ka sticks' consisting of two or more lengths of wood, metal, plastic, or similar substance connected with wire, rope, or other means; or
[[Orig. Op. Page 11]]
"(d) Any device, commonly known as 'throwing stars', which are multi-pointed, metal objects designed to embed upon impact from any aspect.
"(2) Any such student violating subsection (1) of this section is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
"(3) Subsection (1) of this section does not apply to:
"(a) Any student of a private military academy; or
"(b) Any student engaged in military activities, sponsored by the federal or state governments while engaged in official duties; or
"(c) Any student who is attending a convention or firearms safety course authorized by school authorities in which the firearms of collectors or instructors are handled or displayed; or
"(d) Any student who possesses nun-chu-ka sticks, throwing stars, or other dangerous weapons to be used in martial arts classes conducted on the school premises."
Thus, presumably, the primary objective of anything further which might be enacted on this subject at the local (county or city) level would be to reach, as well, the on-campus possession of firearms by other persons.5/ And, on that assumption, we turn now to the question as you have asked it.
We first note, once more, your use of the term "firearm" in this question, as opposed to the term "handgun" in questions (1) and (2), above. To the extent that this is a broader term, encompassing all types of guns including, e.g., hunting rifles and the like, our research reveals nothing in state law which purports to license, or otherwise affirmatively permit, the possession or use of those larger firearms which do not fall within the definition of "short firearm" or "pistol" as set forth in RCW 9.41.010,6/ Therefore, it readily follows that a county or [[Orig. Op. Page 12]] city ordinance regulating those larger firearms would, generally speaking, be valid from the standpoint of the absence of any conflicting state law
Conversely, because of the existence of chapter 9.41 RCW we must turn to, and rely on, a different line of reasoning in responding to your third question as it relates to the authority of a county or city to pass an ordinance prohibiting the possession of a handgun (i.e., pistol, or short firearm) on public or private elementary, secondary or post-secondary school campus which are located within its jurisdiction. Here, in essence, the rationale for our response is basically much the same as was applied in our above‑noted 1979 opinion to Representative Rohrbach, regarding the possession of handguns in taverns or bars‑-although directed instead, in this instance, to school grounds. In our opinion, once again, the applicable provisions of chapter 9.41 RCW (read together) do not mean, or purport to say, that the issuance of a concealed weapons permit grants to its holder an unqualified right to be in possession of such a weapon at any time or any place within the state
‑-any local police power regulations adopted pursuant to Article XI, § 11 of the constitution to the contrary notwithstanding.
It is our opinion, therefore, that a county or city ordinance prohibiting the possession of firearms, including handguns, on public or private school grounds or college campuses within its territorial jurisdiction would be valid because such an ordinance (unlike those covered by your first two questions) wouldnot be in conflict with state law under the applicable, Bellingham v. Schampera, test as above described.
[[Orig. Op. Page 13]]
This completes our consideration of your questions. It is hoped that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERY
PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General