Washington State fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearm regulation under RCW 9.41.290, leaving only a small handful of areas in which local governments can adopt local control measures related to firearms. While this webpage provides a general backdrop of state regulation of firearms, its focus is on local government regulation of firearms. For a more comprehensive overview of state regulation of firearms, see the Washington State Attorney General’s Firearms webpage.
Washington is an open-carry state, which means that an individual can openly carry a firearm unless specifically prohibited by state law. Private property owners may prohibit open carry of firearms on their private property and the state prohibits possession of all firearms (both open carry and concealed carry) in certain areas, including many local government facilities.
A person can carry a concealed pistol outside of their own residence or place of business if they secure a concealed pistol license (CPL) — see RCW 9.41.050(1)(a) — but concealed carry of other firearms is not allowed.
CPL applications are submitted to the local police department or county sheriff’s office, which will then issue the license to the individual after fingerprinting and a background check are performed, unless RCW 9.41.070 warrants denial.
Local Government Facilities and Property
While local governments cannot adopt their own regulations restricting carrying of firearms, under RCW 9.41.300 the state prohibits possession (i.e., both open and concealed carry) of firearms in the following local government facilities:
- Courtrooms and other areas used in connection with court proceedings.
- Jails and public mental health facilities (restricted access areas).
- Airports (at screening checkpoints and beyond).
- Election-related facilities. (Lawful concealed carry is allowed at some facilities.)
- In a stadium or convention center operated by the local government but only upon adoption of a local ordinance and not if the event involves a showing, demonstration, or lecture involving the exhibition of firearms.
- At permitted demonstrations and within 250 feet of a permitted demonstrations after law enforcement advises the person of the demonstration and directs them to leave. (This prohibition does not apply to firearm possession by individuals who are on their own private property.)
- Schools and child-care facilities, and on transportation provided by the school or facility. (RCW 9.41.280; RCW 9.41.282)
Firearms also cannot be open-carried or concealed-carried at outdoor music festivals or in bars. See RCW 70.108.150 and RCW 9.41.300(1)(d). Open carry is prohibited — but lawful concealed carry is allowed — on state capitol grounds and in state legislative facilities (RCW 9.41.305). Notably, state law allows open and closed carry of firearms in libraries, parks, and other public facilities not listed in RCW 9.41.300(1) or RCW 9.41.305.
Meetings of the Local Government’s Governing Body
Open carry of firearms is prohibited in a city, town, county, or special purpose district building used in connect with meetings of the governing body (RCW 9.41.305).
This prohibition on open carry applies to the entire building where meetings of the governing body are held even when the meeting is not currently in progress. It also applies to non-municipal buildings where a meeting or hearing of the governing body is held, but only when that meeting or hearing is in progress. This prohibition applies to not just meetings of the legislative body (i.e., city council or county commission), but also other local government governing bodies like boards, commissions, committees, and other policy or rule-making bodies of the public agency.
A local government must post signs at locations where open carry is a misdemeanor and it must incorporate the misdemeanor into the municipal code in order to prosecute this charge in municipal court.
While state law preempts firearm regulation, it remains lawful for local governments to regulate and prohibit employees from carrying firearms while at work. Washington case law has established that employers, including public employers such as cities, counties, and special purpose districts, may prohibit or otherwise regulate an employee’s ability to carry weapons at work.
In Cherry v. Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle, the Supreme Court of Washington considered whether the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (Metro) could discharge an employee who violated Metro’s policy prohibiting employees from carrying concealed weapons. The court held that:
RCW 9.41.290 is intended to preempt regulatory city, town or county firearms laws and ordinances, but does not address internal employment rules limiting on-duty possession of firearms by public employees in the workplace.
In Chan v. City of Seattle, 164 Wn. App. 549, 265 P.3d 169 (2011), the Division 1 Court of Appeals concluded, based on the decision in Cherry, that the preemption in RCW 9.41.290 doesn’t prohibit a municipal employer from regulating or otherwise prohibiting a municipal employee’s possession of firearms while on the job.
Public employers should utilize personnel policies to regulate or prohibit the carrying of firearms or other weapons by employees and volunteers. Absent such a local policy preventing employees from carrying a firearm and any state regulation preventing the carrying of a firearm, employees may lawfully bring their weapons to work in most situations.
Examples of local government policies regulating carrying of firearms by employees include:
- Anacortes Personnel Policies: Policy 605, Security (2021) — Prohibits employees from possessing firearms on city property, at events sponsored by the city, in city vehicles, and in personal vehicles when conducting city business. Cites Cherry.
- Federal Way Employee Guidelines Sec. 10.8 (2021) — Prohibits possession of a firearm at work whether or not the employee has a permit and whether or not it is concealed, with the exception of law enforcement. The mayor may authorize exceptions.
- King County Workplace Violence Policy (2021) — Prohibits executive branch officers and employees from possessing dangerous weapons within county buildings or facilities, even among individuals with a concealed weapons permit.
- Prosser Personnel Policy Manual: Policy 107 — Allows employees who have a valid CPL and have provided a copy of the license to the city’s finance department to carry a concealed firearm in the workplace.
This section reviews regulations impacting firearms sales and purchase, display and discharge, and storage.
Sales and Purchase of Firearms; Location of Firearms Businesses
The State of Washington has adopted comprehensive regulations on the sale and purchase of firearms in chapter 9.41 RCW. For example, the state prohibits the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines (RCW 9.41.370), assault weapons (HB 1240), and homemade firearms (RCW 9.41.325). Local governments have no authority to regulate the sale or purchase of firearms.
Cities, towns, and counties do have limited authority to regulate the location of firearm businesses, and these are as follows:
- Pursuant to RCW 9.41.300(4)(a), firearm businesses are prohibited from locating within 500 feet of schools.
- Under their general authority to zone for commercial use, local governments can establish certain zones where no businesses may operate. (In this scenario, all businesses would need to be treated the same and firearms businesses could not be singled out as the one prohibited business.)
- If a local government is acting in its proprietary capacity as a property owner, it may impose conditions on the sale of firearms on its property so long as a private property owner can also impose those conditions. For more information, see Pacific Northwest Shooting Park Association v. Sequim, where the city required strict firearm sale rules during a firearms show that was held at the city-owned convention center.
Firearms Display and Discharge
Even in places where open carry is allowed, state law prohibits individuals from the following actions:
- Carrying, exhibiting, displaying, or drawing a firearm in a manner that manifests an intent to intimidate another person or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons (RCW 9.41.270).
- Aiming a firearm towards a human being. See RCW 9.41.230(1)(a).
- Willfully discharging a firearm in a public place or any place where a person might be endangered (RCW 9.41.230).
In terms of local control, local governments are authorized to adopt an ordinance restricting the discharge of firearms where there is a reasonable likelihood that humans, domestic animals, or property will be jeopardized. This is a common provision in city and county codes — see, for example, Lewis County’s designation of no shooting zones and the City of Issaquah’s prohibition of firearm discharge except for at a shooting range.
Although state law does not mandate how or where a firearm must be stored, RCW 9.41.360 prohibits unsafe storage of a firearm, so local governments cannot adopt their own firearm storage regulations because of state preemption. For more information, see Bass v. Edmonds, holding that the city’s ordinance requiring residents securely store their firearms by a locking device, making it accessible and usable only to the owner or other lawfully authorized user, was preempted by state law.
Buyback programs provide incentives, such as money or gift cards, to encourage people to surrender firearms to law enforcement for proper disposal or storage. Nearly all buyback programs are implemented at the county or city level, and public participation is always voluntary.
Buybacks can be held at police stations, community centers, or other sites, and these events are more likely to encourage community participation if participants are not asked to identify themselves or how they acquired a firearm. Firearms that are collected during buybacks are either destroyed or stored.
Several Washington local governments have hosted buyback programs. For example, King County established a year-round voluntary firearm and ammunition buyback program within the King County Sheriff's Office (see King County Motion 16180), which then partners with cities throughout the county to host localized buyback events.
Below are resolutions supporting the establishment of buyback programs:
- Kirkland Resolution 5531 (2022) — Authorizes the city manager to implement a gift card exchange for relinquished firearms. The police department determines whether the firearm was reported stolen or linked to a crime; if not, the firearm is melted as part of the department’s destruction process.
- Olympia Resolution M-2404 (2022) — Authorizes the city manager to create and implement a buyback program within the city police department using funds allocated by the council.