Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill last Wednesday banning openly carried firearms within 250 feet of any public protest anywhere in the state. The ban also applies on the Capitol grounds and in state legislative buildings.
“This is a commonsense approach that extends our existing prohibition on open carry firearms in limited situations, to ensure an individual can’t use a weapon to intimidate other citizens,” Gov. Inslee said at the bill signing on Wednesday.
The impetus for the bill stems from the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and the protests the same day at the Capitol in Olympia, according to local media.
“We’ve seen what happens when people bring weapons to protests,” Democratic state Senator Patty Kuderer, the prime sponsor of the bill, told a House committee in March. Sen. Kuderer did not clarify exactly “what happens.” None of the protestors on January 6 fired their weapons, and the only person shot and killed, Ashli Babbitt, was gunned down by Capitol police.
Sen. Kuderer also argued that the bill does not restrict Second Amendment rights. Since Washingtonians can carry their firearms elsewhere in the state, the new policy does not infringe on gun rights, she contends.
“This isn’t about squelching the Second Amendment or denying people the right to bear arms. It simply restricts where they can carry them,” she said.
The bill, SB 5035, prohibits the following:
- Openly carrying firearms or any weapon while at any “permitted demonstration” being held at a public place — this prohibition applies whether the person carries the weapon on their person or in a vehicle
- Within 250 feet of a “permitted demonstration” at a public place after a duly authorized state or local law enforcement officer advises the person of the demonstration and directs the person to leave until they no longer possess or control a weapon — this prohibition does not apply to any person possessing or controlling any firearm or other weapon on private property owned or leased by that person; and
- On the west Capitol grounds, in any building on the state Capitol grounds, in any state legislative office, or at any location of a public legislative hearing or meeting during the hearing or meeting.
A “permitted demonstration,” according to the bill, is defined as a gathering for which a permit has been issued by a government agency or a gathering of 15 or more people who are assembled for a single event at a public place that has been declared as permitted by the chief executive, sheriff, or chief of police of a local government in which the gathering occurs.
If violators refuse to leave the area after an initial warning, they could face a gross misdemeanor charge punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Those with a valid concealed carry license can still carry their firearms at protests and on Capitol grounds, where permitted.
The bill passed the state House 57-40 and the Senate 28-21.