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Sept. 24, 2020

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Armed group at Washougal gun store near rally draws concern

Police chief says no laws broken; store denounces racism, denies accusations of ‘being racist’

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:
3 Photos
A motorist drives past Limitless America, a firearm retailer in Washougal, on Thursday morning. Photos circulating on social media of an armed group outside of Limitless America during a rally for black lives Sunday drew a number of concerns from community members.
A motorist drives past Limitless America, a firearm retailer in Washougal, on Thursday morning. Photos circulating on social media of an armed group outside of Limitless America during a rally for black lives Sunday drew a number of concerns from community members. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A Washougal firearms retailer that last year pushed for the city to become a gun-rights sanctuary drew community concern after hosting an armed group across the street from a rally for black lives on Sunday.

Photos circulating on social media show armed individuals in front of and on the roof of Limitless America at 501 26th St.

No criminal complaint was filed in connection with the incident, but a number of community members contacted the Washougal Police Department with concerns. The issue was also raised during public comment at Monday’s city council meeting, according to Washougal Police Chief Wendi Steinbronn.

Steinbronn saw the photos and said she found them to be disturbing. Still, she said, it is the police department’s job to remain neutral, maintain peace and uphold the law, regardless of personal feelings.

Following the public comments, Steinbronn said she asked the prosecutor and city attorney to review Washington’s revised code regarding the display of firearms, which confirmed what she already believed: Nothing unlawful took place.

“I can understand why people would be concerned. But Washington is an open-carry state,” Steinbronn said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s upsetting to some but not illegal, and one could argue they were making their own political statement.”

She added that those involved were expressing their First and Second Amendment rights.

On Tuesday, Steinbronn talked with the gun store’s owner, Eric Hargrave, to share the feedback she received. She said he, too, expressed concerns, particularly about safety, in discussing Sunday’s event.

“I really believe in bringing people together to have a discussion, even if they disagree,” she said.

Efforts to reach Hargrave for comment were unsuccessful.

But in a Facebook post Sunday, Limitless America stated: “Our business today had patriots supporting our 2nd Amendment peacefully. No one made any offensive comments and stood by peacefully protecting our community. We got attacked for being racist. For the community’s knowledge we do NOT support racism. We will protect our community from riots and looting. Our small business is (a) proud blended American Vietnamese family. Our team of employees all have different backgrounds. To have false attacks against us claiming we are ‘racist’ because we guarded our store and community is offensive.”

The post was apparently in response to public reviews left on the store’s Facebook page. The reviews have since been removed.

In an update on the post, Limitless America encouraged people with concerns to contact the store directly.

“We understand racism exist(s) and don’t support it. We are here to protect our community against rioters, looters and violence. We all just need to walk in the light. Instead of attacking people and businesses, talk to them as humans,” the update read, in part.

Police monitored rally

Police had monitored Sunday’s demonstration from afar, Steinbronn said, and there were no issues.

Recent protests against police brutality and racial injustice were sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd. In an incident captured on video, Floyd died after Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

Earlier this week, Steinbronn penned a message to the community in which she shared her thoughts on Floyd’s death, the local rally and the department’s policies, including de-escalation and use of force.

“Before today, I have not made an official comment about the death of George Floyd, but those who know me personally have heard me denounce the actions of the officers. Based on my knowledge, training and experience, I know what happened in Minneapolis was bad policing. I support the firing and the arrest of Officer Chauvin as well as the firing of the officers who failed to intervene,” she wrote.

The letter goes on to address Sunday’s peaceful demonstration.

“I want you to know that we support lawful First Amendment assemblies. I heard from some who were concerned about the open carry of firearms by some in the community. Open carry is legal in the state of Washington, assuming the person is otherwise legally able to carry a firearm,” she said.

The police chief’s message can be read in full at: www.cityofwashougal.us/610/2651/Message-on-Death-of-George-Floyd.

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