OLYMPIA – A bill 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 Senate by a vote of 28-20 on Thursday. [TVW Link]
“We all see that there’s been intense political polarization in our country,” said Kuderer. “And the bill is before us today…because guns and polarized politics is a bad combination. And it poses serious risk to public health and safety.”
SSB 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.
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.
SSB 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 for carrying 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.”
SSB 5038 will now go to the House of Representatives for consideration. It has until April 11 to be approved by the House to be eligible to become law this year.
The 2021 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on April 25.
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.
Quotes from Sen. Kuderer during public testimony on SB 5038.
“The purpose of openly carrying a weapon at a protest is to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights. It only serves to increase violence or death. And we’ve seen over the past several years, armed groups engage with peaceful protesters, and sometimes with deadly consequences.” [MP3 Audio Link]
Responding to a question from another senator on the committee who asked if this restricts a person’s Second Amendment rights in favor of their 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.” [MP3 Audio Link]