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Hundreds rally for guns in Olympia

Lawmaker says mental health, school safety must be focus

The Morris family – father Matt, mother Carey and son Josh – brought rifles, shotguns, pistols and a sign from their home in Aberdeen, Wash., to the gun rights rally Friday in Olympia. (Jim Camden)
The Morris family – father Matt, mother Carey and son Josh – brought rifles, shotguns, pistols and a sign from their home in Aberdeen, Wash., to the gun rights rally Friday in Olympia. (Jim Camden)

OLYMPIA – Second Amendment activists came well-armed Friday to a Capitol Campus rally, where Washington legislators promised to protect broad access to firearms and speakers denounced President Barack Obama and gun control.

With the Legislature considering proposals to ban some firearms and high-capacity clips or require background checks for all gun sales, some speakers urged the crowd to prepare for a fight over their gun rights.

But state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, predicted that even if those restrictions pass the Democratic-controlled House “they will die in the Washington state Senate.”

Instead, the Senate will concentrate on proposals to strengthen mental health laws and protect schools, Roach said.

The main problem is not guns, she said after speaking to the crowd, but too many people with serious mental health problems “walking around” and getting guns, either from relatives who don’t keep them properly secured or by stealing them.

One proposal that received applause from the crowd was House Bill 1788, dubbed the “Safer Schools Act,” which would allow teachers and other school employees to carry concealed weapons. State Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, said that would mean “they are no longer sitting ducks.”  The bill has been introduced but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing, and Pike urged the crowd to contact their legislators to show support. 

Some speakers likened any national attempt to limit gun ownership to actions taken by Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or Mao Zedong. Stephen Pidgeon, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for state attorney general, denounced federal restrictions, describing Obama as a tyrant born in another country and saying the U.S. Supreme Court can’t be trusted to protect their rights after Chief Justice John Roberts failed to overturn federal health care reform. 

Be prepared, Bruce Brown of the Lewis County tea party told the crowd, estimated by state officials at about 300. “Keep your powder dry. Get your ammunition. Have the Constitution with you.”

Many of the crowd who gathered in the park east of the domed Capitol made use of the state’s open-carry law and displayed a wide variety of rifles, shotguns and handguns. Some of the weapons would likely be targeted by most proposals to ban semi-automatic, military-style assault rifles.

Fred Sittmann, of Stanwood, Wash., said the 9 mm carbine he built from parts and uses for target practice would probably be covered by any proposed ban, as would some of his high-capacity magazines at home. “Most likely on looks alone,” he said of the carbine. “It’s an evil black rifle.”

Nearby, Mark Shoemaker, of Tacoma, leaned on a replica of a Kentucky long rifle built by an uncle some 40 years ago and passed down through the family. He said he enjoys shooting the .50-caliber flintlock, although getting the black powder it needs is becoming difficult.

“These were far superior to the muskets the British used in 1775,” Shoemaker said. “This would have been considered the assault weapon of its day.” 

Mike Howell, a disabled Vietnam veteran, sat behind the speakers’ tent on an electric scooter, resting the stock of a .410 shotgun on his leg. Howell said he drove to Olympia from Aberdeen to send a message on more than just gun rights: “I’m tired of taxes and I’m tired of new laws.”

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