Following a year of frequent armed protests, some of which turned violent, the Washington Senate voted Thursday to ban the open carry of firearms at the state Capitol and within 250 feet of permitted demonstrations anywhere in the state.
The mostly party line vote was 28 to 20. “Guns and polarized politics is a bad combination and it poses serious risks to public health and safety,” said Democratic state Sen. Patty Kuderer, the prime sponsor of the bill. In her speech, Kuderer invoked several recent incidents, including the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January and the shooting deaths of two people at protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“Honestly, I don’t see any practical purpose for carrying a deadly weapon at public demonstrations or here at the Capitol,” Kuderer said. “The only purpose to do it is to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights.” But opponents argued that the bill is an infringement on Second Amendment rights. They also noted it’s already illegal to brandish a firearm with an intent to intimidate. “I find this bill, and I think my constituents find this bill, rather intimidating,” said Republican state Sen. Keith Wagoner. “It restricts their rights directly, a right to open carry, and secondarily a right of freedom of expression.” Republican state Sen. Phil Fortunato added: “It turns legal gun owners, once again, into criminals.”
Under the bill, which was amended on the floor of the Senate, it would be unlawful for someone to openly carry a firearm or other weapon on themselves or in a vehicle at any permitted demonstration. A violation would be a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
If a march or rally wasn’t issued a permit in advance, local officials could declare the event to be permitted once 15 or more people had assembled in a public place. An exception to the open carry ban would exist for people who are on private property they own or lease. For instance, if a business owner wanted to stand guard with a rifle while a demonstration passed by, that would be allowed. [full article]