Legislature considers banning weapons during protests or at state Capitol

The Washington state Legislature is considering legislation that would make it illegal to openly carry weapons during protests or on the grounds of the state Capitol.

Opponents of Senate Bill 5038 have labelled it an assault on the Second Amendment, while the bill’s supporters argue that the bill is necessary to prevent more violent confrontations like the ones that occurred during public demonstrations last year.

The bill, which was sponsored by 15 Democratic state senators, would make it a gross misdemeanor to carry a variety of weapons — including firearms, clubs, knives and knuckle dusters — while attending a public demonstration or on the grounds of the state Capitol. The ban would also apply to non-attendees at protests who have been ordered to leave the area by law enforcement officials. Law enforcement officers would be exempt from the law while carrying out their duties.

The bill seeks to prevent a repeat of violent incidents that occurred last year during protests. One incident in particular, a shooting that occurred during a confrontation between heavily armed political protesters near the Capitol building in December weighed heavily on the minds of the senators. The Senate Law and Justice Committee heard testimony Jan. 26 from Olympia mayor Cheryl Selby, who described how violent protests interrupted a City Council meeting.

“It haunts me every time I gavel in that the next time could end differently if someone in the room has a gun strapped to their chest,” she said.

Selby also recommended expanding the bill to include city, town and county buildings.

Supporters of gun rights have jumped on the bill as an attack on Washingtonians’ Second Amendment rights. District 39 Republican Sen. Keith Wagoner, who represents most of Snohomish and Skagit counties and part of King County, argued in committee that there was “a conflict of logic,” as the proposed legislation supports the First Amendment right to protest in a way that “suspends” the Second Amendment. The Senate report on the bill points out, however, that a number of restrictions on the Second Amendment already exist in law.

On Thursday, the Senate Law and Justice Committee voted 5-4 to move the bill, with an amendment that changed the proximity to protests from 1,000 feet to 250 feet, on to the next stage of the legislative process, review by the Senate Rules Committee.


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