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Washington lawmakers consider ban on open carry at demonstrations, state Capitol

The ban on carrying guns openly would extend to any demonstration across the state. Opponents say that would be unconstitutional.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A Washington state Senate Committee heard public testimony on a measure that would ban the open carry of guns and other weapons on the Capitol campus and at or near any public demonstration across the state. 

Proponents called it a common-sense measure amid heightened political divisions, while opponents argued it would infringe on constitutional gun rights. 

The bill would prohibit people from carrying weapons, either on their person or in their vehicle, while attending a demonstration at a public place or while being within 1,000 feet of a demonstration. 

It would also prohibit openly carrying weapons in the state Capitol or on the Capitol’s grounds. A violation of the proposed law would be a gross misdemeanor.

Seattle Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz testified he supports the Second Amendment but told state senators that he also backed the bill.

“The presence of firearms at large gatherings have created significant dangers,” he said.

Gunshot survivor Liz Hjelmseth, who has testified in Olympia on past gun-related measures, said she felt safer testifying online this session because normally, guns are allowed on campus.

“Each time I come to Olympia I wonder if I’m going to make it home safely, because I know there are going to be many easily accessible guns, and anger is ever-present,” Hjelmseth said.

Opponents to the bill included gun owners who said the proposal would make law-abiding gun owners less safe.

Tom Kwieciak, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said the bill would be unconstitutional by limiting the right to bear arms.

“How could a person blocks away even have knowledge of a person demonstrating under the definition of demonstrations under this bill?” Kwieciak asked senators.

Republican Sen. Keith Wagoner of Sedro-Woolley asked the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Patty Kuderer of Bellevue, about the constitutionality of her measure.

"Do you not see a conflict of logic to support a First Amendment right, you’re introducing a bill that suspends a Second Amendment right?" he said.

Kuderer said she considered the bill a limit on the Second Amendment.

“This is just a logical extension of a restriction,” Kuderer said. “You still have that right. You’re just limited where you can exercise it and we already do that. Right now you can’t bring your gun into a courthouse. Try it.”