New rules banning firearms in the Senate viewing gallery at the state capitol are a good start. Next, lawmakers should expand that prohibition throughout the Legislative Building in Olympia.
Last week, Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, who presides over the Senate, issued a decree saying concealed weapons will no longer be allowed in the chamber’s public galleries. Three years ago, both the Senate and the House of Representatives barred the open carrying of weapons in the balconies that overlook the chambers. Habib’s extension of that prohibition applies only to the Senate — House leaders make rules for their portion of the Capitol — but it is a common-sense approach to enhance the safety of lawmakers and spectators.
“I don’t want us implementing this type of order the day after some type of tragedy,” Habib said. “I want to be doing it pre-emptively.”
Understandably, not all agree. State Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, argued that the state Constitution does not list the Legislative Building alongside courthouses, jails and mental institutions as places where firearms may be restricted. He also argued that the ban is unenforceable, considering that concealed weapons are, indeed, concealed, and wrote, “You have no more ability to restrict by fiat the private exercise of a constitutional right than you could prohibit a whispered prayer in the gallery.”
The argument over legality could only be decided in court, but for now Habib has jurisdiction as the presiding officer in the Senate. As for enforcement, Fortunato is correct in pointing out the difficulty. Because of that, lawmakers should consider banning all firearms from the Capitol, where open carry is permitted in public areas. For the good of the public, it would be sensible to return metal detectors to the building’s entrances and to ban all weapons — as is the case at the U.S. Capitol.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 10 states have open-carry laws and allow guns in their statehouse; 13 allow guns with a permit; and three allow only lawmakers to carry. In truth, there is no logical reason for law-abiding visitors to feel the need to carry a gun into a building that is well-protected by security and the Washington State Patrol. And there certainly is no logical reason to give those who are not law-abiding a free pass to carry a weapon into the people’s house.
All of this plays a role in the nation’s ongoing debate over gun rights. Recently, a congressional committee passed H.R. 38 — co-sponsored by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground– and sent it to the full House of Representatives. The bill would allow people who have a concealed carry permit in one state to legally carry a weapon in any state, regardless of the local laws.
In other words, people from a state with standards that are considered too lax by the residents of Washington could carry a concealed weapon here, ignoring the standards our citizens have adopted. Notably, many of those who support H.R. 38 often decry the trampling of states’ rights — but they are willing to ignore those rights when it comes to guns.
Washington residents long have demonstrated a desire for reasonable restrictions on guns. In 2014, citizens passed universal background checks, closing a loophole for gun-show sales, with 59 percent of the vote. Habib’s decree regarding the Senate chambers would seem to fit with the wishes of the public.
In an era when this country averages more than one mass shooting a day, guns should be banned from the Capitol.