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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bill to ban open carry at the capitol and demonstrations heads to Inslee’s desk

An armed protester stands outside the Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Olympia. A bill banning open carry of guns at the capitol and at public demonstrations awaits the governor's signature.   (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – A bill that would ban the open carrying of firearms at public demonstrations and at the state Capitol is headed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for a final signature.

The bill passed both chambers earlier this session on party lines. Similarly, the Senate concurred 28-21 on Tuesday.

The bill would ban open carry within 250 feet of publicly permitted demonstrations and on the state Capitol campus. People openly carrying a firearm on their private property are exempt, if a protest is occurring outside their home or business. Law enforcement officers are also exempt.

The bill extends the list where open carry is not allowed, bill sponsor Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, said on the floor Tuesday, and will help ensure the safe practice of First Amendment rights.

A publicly permitted demonstration is defined as “a gathering of 15 or more people at a single event in a public place for which a permit has been issued by a government agency or has been designated as permitted by certain local government officials,” the bill reads.

One of the most notable changes the state House of Representatives made was adding an emergency clause, which would put the bill into effect as soon as it is signed into law, instead of 90 days after the end of session. Lawmakers at the time said it was a request from the Washington State Patrol. The Washington State Patrol has said it did not request the clause.

Kuderer said Tuesday that the emergency clause was a misunderstanding that came out of a conversation she had with another senator and was later relayed to the other chamber, which added it.

She went on to say that, although it was a mistake, the emergency clause ended up being “a very much-needed amendment” that could stop armed protests sooner.

“Sometimes mistakes turn out to be the right thing, and in this case, I believe that is true,” she said.

Opponents of the bill see the emergency clause as an attempt to halt a referendum on the bill, if voters wanted to put it on the ballot. Because an emergency clause puts the bill into effect as soon as it is signed, it limits any voter participation.

Spokane Valley Republican Sen. Mike Padden said Tuesday the emergency clause has a lot of consequences.

“It was never intended by the Senate,” he said. “It was never even brought up.”

The people should have the chance to have a referendum on it, if they desire, he said.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.