Peaceful picnickers exercise their gun rights in park

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The ninth annual Peace and Justice Fair took up most of Esther Short Park on Saturday with nonpartisan booths, performers and face-painting for children. But in the southwest corner, a smaller group assembled to make its own peaceful statement.

About 70 people attended a barbecue for OpenCarry.org Washington to educate the public that it's legal to openly carry firearms on public property.

Organizer Nick Smith of Tacoma said he was told when he reserved space in the park about the Peace and Justice Fair.

"We're for peace and justice, too," Smith said. His group just takes a different approach, he said.

The group had a picnic in 2010 in Esther Short Park, and Smith said there was demand for another.

"If you have a right and you don't exercise it, we say, it's a right lost," Smith said. Most people see guns only on television, and then carried only by police or bad guys, he said. He wants people to become more comfortable with the sight of someone who isn't a police officer with a gun in a holster.

"I just say, 'I have nothing to hide,'" said Smith, 43, who manages a gun store. Smith, who grew up in Vancouver, said he started shooting when he was 12 and has carried a gun since he turned 21.

Gun rights advocates have succeeded in getting both the Vancouver City Council and the Board of Clark County Commissioners to amend codes to make it legal to carry guns in parks. When the matter was first brought to the attention of the city council in 2010 by OpenCarry.org Washington member Joe Winton, City Attorney Ted Gathe acknowledged that park codes pre-dated the state's open-carry law.

It remains illegal to discharge a weapon in a park, except under specific circumstances such as in self-defense.

Vancouver resident Lynda Wilson, 54, attended Saturday's barbecue with her husband, Tracy.

She started shooting five years ago. For Christmas, she bought her husband a pellet-firing Airsoft rifle -- and was surprised to open her present, a real gun.

Recently, Wilson succeeded in getting county commissioners to update an emergency code to reflect the fact that the chairman of the Board of Clark County Commissioners does not have authority to prohibit the possession of firearms in public during a declared emergency.

Only the governor has that authority, she pointed out.

On Sept. 18, commissioners are expected to update the emergency ordinance a second time to correct another error pointed out by Wilson. The county does not, contrary to current code, have the right to prohibit the sale or distribution of firearms or ammunition during a declared emergency.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.