WA State Senator Has Novel Idea For Capitol Gun Ban

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

A bill that would ban the open carrying of firearms on the grounds and inside the state Capitol building in Olympia as well as at and near permitted political protests is up for debate in the Washington State Senate, and the measure has been getting a lot of push back from gun owners and lawmakers alike.

State Sen. Phil Fortunato has a novel suggestion for lawmakers pushing the ban, which passed out of the state Senate late last week.

Fortunato noted that instead of adopting the convoluted and impractical proposal, Senate Bill 5038, Democrats could just designate the Campus an insane asylum to have the same effect, referring to existing state law that prohibits firearms in a mental institution.

“There are a ridiculous number of provisions, such as being within 75 feet of a demonstration, permitted or an unpermitted gathering of 15 or more people,” said Fortunato. “So, are you going to require people to have someone else measure the distance from the Capitol steps?”

Anti-Second Amendment legislators in the Senate approved the measure Thursday night. The proposal would essentially ban open carry of firearms on the Capitol campus and other “legislative locations” and make the violation of the law a gross misdemeanor.

“This bill turns legal gun owners into criminals and will criminalize a legal protest and activity protected under the state constitution. We are an open carry state,” Fortunato exclaimed.

How much longer will that be the case, I wonder.

As Fortunato noted, the bill as passed by the Senate would criminalize the lawful open-carrying of a firearm at a permitted protest, while carrying during unpermitted protests would still be allowed.

If it ultimately becomes law, a violation would be a gross misdemeanor. Several GOP lawmakers, such as Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, noted protests in Seattle last year led to the city briefly allowing an autonomous zone to sprout up. Officials shut that zone down after two homicides in or around it.

King noted that such protests aren’t given permits by officials.

“If you want to be fair about all of these things, let’s talk about all of the demonstrations,” said King. “Don’t pick and choose.

“And talk about the ones where people were really hurt and businesses were destroyed,” he added.

Many of the Democrats who voted in favor of the legislation (it passed out of the Senate on a 28-20 party line vote) claim that the arguments of Republicans are overwrought, and that the legislation offers only limited restrictions on the right to bear arms.

“We know that neither the First nor the Second Amendment is absolute, we know that there have been restrictions, reasonable restrictions placed on each of them,” said Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue and sponsor of the bill. “This is just another one.”

The problem with restricting the rights of the people is that even a minor infringement is still an infringement. Is it “reasonable” to make it a crime to openly carry near a permitted event that you might not even know is taking place? Kuderer says yes, but most gun owners would say no.

Personally, I find a ban of any nature to be unreasonable, including Kuderer’s legislation. There have been no issues with gun owners openly carrying on the Capitol grounds in Olympia, and I find it difficult to believe that anyone who may have ill intent towards lawmakers or anyone else is going to be thwarted if lawmakers decide to make it a misdemeanor offense to openly carry on the Capitol grounds.

This isn’t a public safety measure because it doesn’t actually make anyone safer. It’s simply a measure to make legislators feel better at the expense of the civil rights of the constituents. If any of the Democrats who voted for Kuderer’s bill actually believe it will make a difference, they’re crazy, and maybe Sen. Fortunato’s proposal to turn the state Capitol into a mental institution deserves a serious look.

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Apr 09, 2021 5:00 PM ET