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  • Hannah Ray Lambert

Blue state customers flock to Idaho gun store to find 'a little bit of freedom,' owner says

The parking lot outside North Idaho Arms was quiet early one Saturday morning, but owner Bryan Zielinski soon expected it to fill with cars, many of them bearing Washington plates.

Most customers only travel 30 minutes or so from Washington's eastern cities. But on weekends, Zielinski says some make the five-hour drive from the Seattle area to buy magazines and other accessories outlawed in their own state.

"We're seeing people wanting to make the drive solely just to experience a little bit of freedom, the freedom that they lost in Washington," Zielinski said.

Zielinski was a lifelong Washingtonian until last June and previously managed a large gun store in Bellevue. He advocated against the state's increasingly restrictive gun control laws but to no avail, and he finally moved his family to North Idaho.

"Some of the most restrictive gun control in the United States is now in western Washington," he said. "And that all happened in the space of less than three years."

Washington's crackdown on gun rights

Democrats spent years trying to ban magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds, Zielinski said. Then Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson, now a candidate for governor, spearheaded a ban that relied on the Consumer Protection Act, a state law meant to protect residents from "unfair or deceptive" business practices.

In 2022, Washington lawmakers outlawed the manufacture, import, distribution and sale of high-capacity magazines, but not possession itself. The next year, they passed a similar ban on the sale or import of "assault weapons" — primarily semi-automatic rifles — and many of the parts used to build them, arguing such measures were critical to preventing mass shootings.

"Assault weapons" were used in about 25% of mass shootings, according to The Violence Project, a database supported by the National Institute of Justice that analyzed mass shootings in the U.S. from 1966 to early 2020. The project chronicles mass shootings in which four or more victims were murdered with firearms in a public location.

Washington has had eight such shootings since 1966, according to The Violence Project, the majority of which involved handguns. But semi-automatic rifles have been used in other killings in the state, including the 2016 shooting at a Mukilteo house party. Three people were killed in the mass shooting that drove Ferguson to advocate for the ban.

The Zielinski family packed up and moved to North Idaho last June, less than two months after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed the assault weapons ban into law.

"I really got to see how bad things were starting to get," Zielinski said. "We finally reached a crescendo."

Zielinski opened his own gun store just a five-minute drive across the border from Washington. He spoke to Fox News Digital while sitting in front of a wall of semi-automatic rifles that are now illegal to make, purchase or sell in his former home state.

He can't sell the banned guns themselves to Washington residents because they require extra processes like a background check and would need to be transferred to a licensed dealer in Washington. But when it comes to replacement parts or magazines, Zielinski says he doesn't "card anybody for anything unless there's a serial number on it."

"We follow all federal laws. We follow all Idaho state laws," he said. "But it is legal in Idaho to buy certain things as an adult that maybe you can't buy in Washington."

Similarly, Idaho plates are a common sight outside marijuana dispensaries on the Washington side of the border. No one is stopping Idahoans from buying pre-rolls or gummies that are banned in their home state, Zielinski said.

"At the end of the day, it's on the consumer to make sure they're not breaking the laws of their home state," he said.

Learning from Washington's ‘mistakes,’ and safeguarding Idaho against ‘liberal mindset’

Gun stores were abuzz this spring in Washington as they awaited a possible injunction against the state's magazine ban. The attorney general had sued a business for continuing to sell magazines after the ban took effect, and the store challenged the law's constitutionality.

In Post Falls, Zielinski took dozens of pre-orders, packaged them and got them ready to ship.

"The commitment to the customer was that the minute the injunction happens that we were going to get into Washington legally, import those boxes and get those mailed out," he said.

On April 8, a judge ruled the ban violates both the U.S. and Washington state constitutions. The attorney general secured an emergency order from the state Supreme Court 88 minutes later, keeping the ban in place.

Zielinski shipped 147 boxes of magazines during that window.

"I know that we have some happy customers because we've heard from all of them," he said.

He said he is still invested in Washington's Second Amendment future because some of his friends and family members remain "behind the Iron Curtain over there."

"But the main thing is, I've learned from the mistakes of Washington on how we're going to safeguard Idaho," he said. "So if I can work to help Washington and now help Idaho into the future as well, it's kind of a win-win."

Right now, "gun laws are great in Idaho," he said. 

It's one of nearly 30 states with constitutional concealed carry, has no laws regulating high-capacity magazines or semi-automatic rifles, and even allows residents to own a machine gun as long as it’s registered.

But Zielinski wants to see Idaho's legislators make it illegal for the state to use the Consumer Protection Act to stifle the Second Amendment. And he said he'd like to see more unification in the state's GOP which, like its national counterpart, has become increasingly fractured.

"If we can safeguard Idaho against this liberal mindset," he said, "I think we could be the beacon that other conservative states see and go, ‘We want to be more like Idaho.’"


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