OLYMPIA – Voter-approved background checks on private gun purchases are not law because they are unconstitutional, Rep. Matt Shea told gun-rights activists Thursday on the steps of the Capitol.
“An unconstitutional law is no law at all,” the Spokane Valley Republican, who is also a private attorney, told activists the measure that passed in November violates state and federal constitutions. But the right to bear arms is inalienable and can’t be taken away by voters or the courts.
“God gave us that,” said Shea, who told the crowd he is sponsoring a bill to repeal Initiative 594 and supporting other gun-rights measures.
The Washington Firearms Leaders Action Group held the first of what it expects to be monthly rallies against I-594, which drew between 250 and 300 activists, organizers and the State Patrol estimated. Many openly carried rifles, shotguns or handguns to the gathering on the north steps of the Capitol, and brought their weapons inside the building. Under Washington law, visitors to the Capitol can openly carry firearms, but building regulations don’t allow people to bring protest signs on sticks inside.
There were no votes or committee hearings on gun legislation scheduled Thursday, but WAFLAG President Ray Carter said the demonstration gave activists a chance to lobby their legislators and “get our foot in at maintaining a presence in Olympia throughout the session.”
Gun-control activists also plan to maintain a presence felt during the session. A few hours after the rally, a coalition groups that support gun control announced it would grade legislators on efforts to adopt new laws to increase gun safety and oppose repeal to the state’s newly expanded background-check law.
The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility said it will score legislators not just on how they vote on bills the groups support or oppose, but on whether they actively advocate for gun control during debates and deliberations, meet with gun-control supporters or are “engaging the public” on the issue.
The coalition expects to back several bills, including one to reduce child access to firearms in homes, and oppose efforts to repeal or reduce I-594, which requires background checks on most purchasers of guns through private sales.
It won’t penalize legislators for meeting with gun-rights advocates, said Rebecca Johnson-Arledge, an advisor to the coalition, because “we encourage people to meet with everyone.” Legislators who participate in gun-control events will get points; those who appear at gun-rights rallies will get zeros in that category.
“We want to reward good behavior,” she said.
Amending or repealing I-594, which passed last November with support from 59 percent of the voters, will be a challenge, Carter acknowledged, because any changes to an initiative in the two years after it passes requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Legislature.
Shea is the prime sponsor of House Bill 1245, which would repeal the law. He’s also a co-sponsor of a bill that would ban any government database of people who legally own firearms and another that would require the state to send notices to holders of concealed weapons permits when those permits are about to expire.
Shea was once charged with a misdemeanor for having a concealed weapon without a permit in his pickup truck after his permit expired. He was being investigated for an alleged road rage incident at the time the gun was discovered by a city police officer. The charge was eventually dropped under a deferred prosecution agreement with Spokane city prosecutors when Shea went without any traffic violations for a year.