OLYMPIA – Visitors to the Legislature are banned from bringing knives and openly carried guns into the House and Senate galleries or committee rooms.
The changes in House and Senate rules, which were posted outside the gallery doors Monday, come after demonstrators from a gun-rights rally last Thursday brought and brandished weapons in the House gallery. Senate leaders announced a ban for their gallery Friday, and the House followed suit Monday after legislative leaders and security officials discussed the issue over the weekend.
Deputy Minority Leader Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, said the rules have been clarified to make clear that openly carried guns are among items that are banned as objects of demonstration. Last Thursday, he said, some gun-rights advocates brought loaded firearms into the gallery. One had a chambered round and ejected it onto the gallery floor.
“All the rules of gun safety were violated,” Kretz said. “It’s too bad, because I don’t think they represented your average gun owners.”
There was some inconsistency in the old rules in which a gallery visitor with a gun and a backpack would have to take the backpack off and leave it outside the gallery, yet could carry the firearm in, Kretz said.
Visitors were allowed to bring firearms they were carrying openly into the building and the fourth floor gallery because of a state law that allows people to openly carry the weapons. But the Legislature has rules that ban demonstrators from bringing protest signs on sticks into the building and bans “props that could be construed as an effort to promote demonstrations” in the galleries.
House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, called the change a clarification that became necessary “after a very, very few people stepped over the line.”
“It was obvious that they were using the open-carry law as a prop,” Kristiansen said, adding the rule change doesn’t apply to concealed weapons, which would still be allowed for visitors with the appropriate permit. He said he didn’t anticipate any effort to change the rule back at this point.
Whether the rule would survive a constitutional challenge if someone felt it violated the Second Amendment is “way above my pay grade,” Kristiansen said. But more restrictive bans have been upheld for courts, he added, and there are restrictions on First Amendment free speech provisions because protest signs are banned.
The new rules were announced in the House Democratic and Republican caucus meetings before the morning session.
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