Citizens wanting to openly carry firearms in the state Senate gallery are prohibited from doing so, state officials announced Friday, as Southwest Washington activists made plans to carry their own guns in the Capitol’s public viewing areas.
The House is also considering a ban, with a decision expected Monday.
Frank Decker of Vancouver, who is behind the effort to mobilize open-carry advocates to head to Olympia, said the move disenfranchises people.
“There are a lot of people in this state that open carry is a lifestyle,” Decker said.
“If they make a rule you can only conceal carry when you’re in the gallery, they marginalize these people who want to be in state government and who want to listen,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen called the decision a “reinterpretation” of existing rules, pointing out that people aren’t allowed to demonstrate in the public galleries and backpacks, placards and props have long been banned.
“It’s my job to maintain order and protocol and security in the galleries … So we took a look at this and it’s my opinion that the rules have not changed. The rules are being made clear to folks — we won’t have demonstrations in our galleries,” Owen said.
Owen’s announcement came a day after protesters at the Capitol, there to rally against a voter-approved measure that expanded background checks, brandished their weapons in the House gallery.
“I have to create a comfortable, secure work environment for the people that work in the chamber of the Washington state Senate and for the children that are pages,” Owen said. “If they feel uncomfortable and don’t have a good work environment, I wouldn’t be doing my job.”
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said the House is weighing a similar decision.
“We have to be thoughtful about the impact, the constitution, thoughtful how a rule would be enforced, how that notification would be made,” Sullivan said, who added the House clerk is looking at how other states handle the issue.
Sullivan noted there have been very few instances “like what occurred (Thursday) in the House chambers” with the protesters, but conversations surrounding the issue have been happening for a long time.
In July, Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, took to Facebook and wrote, “I will refuse to conduct the business of the state as long as any ‘open carry’ nuts (are) in the gallery.”
As speaker pro tempore of the state House of Representatives, Moeller often presides when the House is in session.
Decker saw the post and decided, “Challenge accepted.”
Decker created his own Facebook page titled “Moeller’s Open Carry Challenge.” The goal, Decker said, is to have a volunteer openly carry a firearm in the gallery every day during the 2015 legislative session, with the goal of starting Monday.
With the recent announcement, Decker said he will wait to see what the House decides.
“I’m not the kind of guy that is looking for notoriety,” Decker said. “I’m an advocate and an activist for making sure our constitutional rights and personal liberties stay intact. Because I believe if we don’t have those, we don’t have anything.”