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Gallery with guns may await Moeller next session

His Facebook post leads to backlash, 'Open Carry Challenge'

By , Columbian Political Writer
Published: September 27, 2014, 5:00pm

Earlier this summer, Rep. Jim Moeller took to Facebook and issued what some gun-rights advocates perceived as a challenge.

“I will refuse to conduct the business of the state as long as any ‘open carry’ nuts (are) in the gallery,” Moeller, D-Vancouver, wrote on his Elect Jim Moeller Facebook page.

As speaker pro tempore of the state House of Representatives, Moeller often presides when the House is session.

Frank Decker, who is not one of Moeller’s constituents but a Vancouver resident and a gun-rights advocate, saw the post.

“My immediate reaction was, challenge accepted,” Decker said.

Decker created his own Facebook page titled “Moeller’s Open Carry Challenge.” The page has more than 80 “likes,” and the goal, Decker said, is to have a volunteer openly carry a firearm in the gallery of the House every day during the 2015 legislative session, which kicks off in January.

“The best case scenario is that Jim would come to his senses and realize he’s not being intimidated by us being there; he’s not being threatened,” Decker said.

Moeller, said it’s the equivalent of having someone shouting at him from the gallery.

“It’s ridiculous it’s allowed,” Moeller said. “It’s not allowed in courthouses, it’s not allowed in jails or bars or schools, and I think it’s ridiculous it’s allowed in the gallery.”

Moeller said he doesn’t take issue with lawmakers who carry a concealed weapon on the floor or firearms being allowed in the statehouse, but having someone open-carry firearms in the public gallery, which is elevated, he said, is an act of intimidation.

There are only 12 states that have no restrictions on carrying firearms within statehouses, according to Morgan Cullen with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Bob Calkins, spokesman with the Washington State Patrol, said troopers wouldn’t be able to do anything if gun-rights advocates became a steady presence in the gallery.

“It’s legal,” he said.

Decker, who is an executive supervisor of instructional technology for the Centennial School District in Gresham, Ore., and who unsuccessfully ran for Vancouver City Council in 2013, said it’s a good opportunity to show gun-control supporters that those who openly carry firearms are “normal, hardworking people.”

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“We’re not nuts,” Decker said.

Moeller doesn’t regret using the term “nuts.”

“Perhaps a more politically correct term would be zealots, but quite honestly (Ronald) Reagan said simple words are best, and I think nuts fit the bill,” Moeller said.

Although Moeller hadn’t heard of the Facebook group until contacted by The Columbian, he said he’s considering drafting legislation to ban firearms in the gallery.

Decker said he’s heard a lot of support for his idea and expects armed citizens will sign up for shifts as it gets closer to the legislative session.

Moeller’s Republican opponent, Lisa Ross, who is hoping to replace him in Olympia, has also “liked” Decker’s page. Ross is a gun-rights advocate.

“The best case scenario is if the voters realized how much of their rights my opponent wants to take away,” she said.

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