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Washington Supreme Court: Ban on “High-Capacity” Magazines to Remain in Place

— April 23, 2024

“We’re not ruling on the ultimate merits of the case,” Washington State Supreme Court Commissioner Michael E. Johnston said, “we’re ruling on whether it is procedurally teed up—whether it belongs in this court, and various procedural things.”

Officials from the Washington Supreme Court will let a state-wide ban on “high-capacity” firearm magazines remain in place as they continue to assess its constitutionality.

According to The Olympian, state Supreme Court Commissioner Michael E. Johnston must soon decide whether to approve or deny an emergency motion that seeks a stay on a Cowlitz County Superior Court’s ruling that the magazine prohibition is unconstitutional.

The request for an initial stay—a legal action that can curtail enforcement of a court order, or temporarily suspend certain proceedings—was filed earlier this month by the state’s attorney general, and approved within 24 hours by Johnston’s office.

However, Johnston has yet to confirm whether he will extend the stay as claims against Washington’s magazine restrictions make their way through the court. If the stay is not extended, then the Cowlitz County Court’s order would likely take effect—barring Washington prosecutors and police departments from enforcing the ban.

The ban, which was passed by the state Legislature in 2022, broadly prohibits the manufacture, importation, sale, and distribution of so-called “ammunition feeding devices” capable of holding 10 or more rounds of ammunition.

A 2011 image of Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who was, at the time, campaigning for the post. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:Joe Mabel. (CCA-BY-3.0). (

After the Cowlitz County Court declared the law unconstitutional, firearms retailers across Washington immediately resumed sales of high-capacity magazines—before being forced to take them off shelves when Johnston approved the attorney general’s request for a stay.

William McGinty, an attorney who represented the state in proceedings, has since argued for an extension, saying that other state courts have found similar bans constitutional. In Illinois, for instance, several district-level judges issued rulings against magazine restrictions—only for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn these decisions and permit Illinois to resume enforcement.

“Moreover,” McGinty said, “the balance of harms weighs sharply in favor of maintain this stay, because [the ban] is a critical public safety law that will save lives.”

If the stay is lifted, McGinty said, it is possibly—and, based on the past actions of firearms dealers, quite likely—that shops will immediately resume sales and encourage consumers to purchase high-capacity magazines “while they still can.”

Johnston has since tried to clarify his position, saying that the stay does not reflect the Supreme Court’s stance on the ban.

“We’re not ruling on the ultimate merits of the case,” Johnston said, “we’re ruling on whether it is procedurally teed up—whether it belongs in this court, and various procedural things.”

“It’s important to note that any decision I make by way of ruling can be reversed by the justices of this court,” he said.


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