*Correction: An earlier version of this release stated the House adopted two amendments to SB 5038. In total, four amendments were adopted by the House.*
OLYMPIA – A bill, SB 5038, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue), that would prohibit the open carry of firearms and other weapons on the state Capitol grounds and within 250 feet of permitted public demonstrations was approved by the House of Representatives on Sunday. [TVW Link]
“Banning open carry weapons at public demonstrations and the Capitol campus is a reasonable step toward keeping the peace while people are exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Kuderer. “Open carry weapons, at best, only serve to intimidate peaceful protestors, and at worst, could end up with people being injured or killed. This is a public safety issue first and foremost.”
Every state has laws prohibiting concealed or open carry possession of firearms by civilians in certain locations. Washington state law currently restricts firearm possession in courthouses, jail facilities, bars, airports, and behavioral health facilities.
SB 5038 exempts on-duty military and law enforcement personnel, and any property owner or renter on their own property even if the demonstration is inside the 250-foot perimeter. The new law would not apply to those with valid concealed pistol licenses who are carrying concealed weapons.
SB 5038 would also prohibit open carry of firearms on the west Capitol campus grounds where the state Legislative building, member and staff offices, governor’s mansion, and press houses are located.
Several states, including California, Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Wyoming have prohibitions on concealed carry, open carry, or both at state legislative and other government-owned buildings, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“Honestly, I don’t see any practical purpose to open-carry a deadly weapon at public demonstrations or here at the Capitol,” said Kuderer. “The only purpose to do it is to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Several Republican lawmakers argued the bill is a violation of the Second Amendment. However, that argument was rejected by a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last week.
There is no right to carry arms openly in public; nor is any such right within the scope of the Second Amendment,” Judge Jay Bybee, a nominee of George W. Bush, wrote in the majority opinion.
Bybee wrote that “the contours of the government’s power to regulate arms in the public square is at least this: the government may regulate, and even prohibit, in public places—including government buildings, churches, schools, and markets—the open carrying of small arms capable of being concealed, whether they are carried concealed or openly.”
Our review of more than 700 years of English and American legal history reveals a strong theme: government has the power to regulate arms in the public square,” he continued.
The House adopted four amendments to SB 5038, so the bill must return to the Senate for concurrence. Kuderer expects the Senate will concur with the House amendments.
The 2021 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on April 25.
Quotes from Sen. Kuderer on SB 5038.
“We all see that there’s been intense political polarization in our country. The bill is before us today because guns and polarized politics are a bad combination, and that poses a serious risk to public health and safety.”
Responding to a question from another senator on the committee who asked if this restricts a person’s Second Amendment rights in favor of First Amendment rights, Kuderer rejected the premise of the question by highlighting existing restrictions on gun possession in certain locations.
“It doesn’t suspend the Second Amendment right. You still have that right. You’re just limited to where you can exercise it. We already do that. Right now you can’t bring your gun into a courthouse. Try it. I can guarantee you, you won’t get very far.”
High-res photos (Credit: Washington LSS)
I-594 protesters in the gallery of the House of Representatives, January 15, 2015.
A I-594 protest rally takes place on the North steps of the Legislative Building, January 15, 2015.