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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ban on guns in state Capitol being repealed

Associated Press

OLYMPIA – As state officials prepare to install metal detectors at the doors of the renovated Capitol building, they also are in the process of repealing the rule that bans firearms inside the seat of government.

The result? Lawmakers worried about gunfire from the House gallery may be treated to the unnerving sight of an armed citizen setting off the detector, then casually flashing a concealed weapon permit.

The rule banning firearms is considered unenforceable because state law doesn’t forbid guns except in specific places – a list that doesn’t include the Capitol.

A visitor will be able to carry a firearm onto the Capitol campus and through the detector if he or she has a permit, doesn’t wave the gun around and doesn’t scare people with it, according to the Department of General Administration.

“I wouldn’t say it’s absurd, but I would say it’s the predicament we’re in right now,” Rob Fukai, the department’s director, told The Olympian.

The department backed a bill to ban weapons in the statehouse earlier this year, but it died in the House Judiciary Committee. Meanwhile, the state’s construction budget mandates leasing and installing metal detectors on the doors.

“The Legislature has been given the opportunity … and historically they’ve declined to act on that,” Fukai said.

Rep. John Lovick, a Washington State Patrol sergeant, argued for the ban bill and the metal detectors, but now questions whether one will work without the other.

“Why do we need to lease these screeners if it’s OK to have weapons?” asked Lovick, R-Mill Creek, who said he would push again for a bill banning weapons in the Capitol if he’s re-elected this year.

The decision to formally repeal the rule followed a March 6 petition from two Port Orchard residents, Merton and Myrtle Cooper.

Merton Cooper, a retiree who’s a fixture at legislative hearings and other public meetings, called the state plan to add weapons screening “stupid” and said the Capitol will be safer if people are allowed to carry concealed firearms inside.

Fukai said the agency plans to go ahead with leasing the weapons-screening equipment and hiring security officers.

In cases where a member of the public brings a gun to the Capitol, it would be up to State Patrol troopers to determine whether it’s a problem, Fukai said.

The general language of state law concerning weapons in public makes it unlawful to carry, display or draw a firearm or dangerous weapon “in a manner, under circumstances, and at a time and place that either manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons,” Fukai said in a letter announcing the proposed rule change.

Fukai said there have not been incidents in the past, so he believes there won’t be a significant change once the rule is repealed.

Under the lengthy rule-making process, the department will draft language to repeal the gun ban, hold hearings this fall, and enact the change before lawmakers return in January, Fukai said.

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