OLYMPIA – Whether a homeowner’s right to keep guns out their home takes precedence over the right of a person with a concealed pistol license to be armed is a question lawmakers may have to answer.
A bill debated Tuesday in the Senate Law and Justice Committee would require the holder of a concealed pistol license to get permission to bring a gun into another person’s residence.
The bill was sparked by an incident at the home of Suzanne Cofer, of Lacey, who had a neighborhood gathering one evening. After everyone left, she found a pistol on the stairs.
“Persons who do not like guns should have certain rights, too,” Cofer told the committee. “I want to keep guns out of my home, even if I can’t avoid them anywhere else.”
Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, the bill’s sponsor, called it a way to “protect someone’s castle from unwanted firearms.”
Would it cover any sort of a meeting, or just a private one, Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, asked. Any sort of meeting, Hunt replied, but the law wouldn’t keep someone from attending, just from bringing a firearm in if the owner doesn’t give permission.
A person who failed to get permission to bring a concealed pistol into someone else’s home could be charged with a misdemeanor. If convicted, they could lose their license for five years.
Tom Kwieciak, a National Rifle Association spokesman, said the bill is unnecessary because current trespass laws already require someone to leave another’s home if asked.
“A property owner can always ask people before they enter the home if they’re armed,” Kwieciak said.
Phil Watson, of the Firearms Policy Coalition, said concealed pistol license holders have passed stringent background checks, making them “one of the safest segments of our society.” They should be able to bring that weapon with them when visiting another home.
“You may not know who’s also at their house,” Watson said. “You may not know what kind of an environment you’re walking into.”
Criminals who can’t get a concealed pistol license may be armed anyway and they won’t follow the law, he said. Members of crafts or professions that go into other people’s homes for work also have the right to protect their expensive equipment, he said, and asking them to ask permission “is ridiculous.”
A representative of the state’s sheriffs and police chiefs organization said an exemption should be added for law enforcement officers who often carry concealed weapons when off duty.
The bill should be part of a larger conversation about making sure guns in households are safe, said Rebecca Johnson, of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. But that’s probably a larger conversation than will be settled in this year’s Legislature, she added.