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Eastern Washington candidate says was carrying his gun during debate at a high school

June 23, 2022 Updated Thu., June 23, 2022 at 9:13 p.m.

By Eric Rosane Tri-City Herald

KENNEWICK – A Republican congressional candidate from the Tri-Cities said he was “packing” a firearm while at a debate at a high school in north-central Washington earlier this week.

The comments from Kennewick Republican Brad Klippert come amid heightened discussions about gun control and how to keep schools safe following the deaths of 19 children and two teachers this month in Uvalde, Texas.

And he may not have been the only candidate at the forum who was armed.

Possessing a firearm on school grounds is a gross misdemeanor in Washington state, although there are exceptions in the law for military, law enforcement and school district security staff.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office declined to weigh in on the matter. Dan Jackson, the AG’s deputy communications director, instead referred to a statute that broadly states “any law enforcement officer of the federal, state, or local government agency” is exempt from the law restricting firearms on school grounds.

Klippert is a deputy sheriff and school resource officer for Benton County. The event, however, was at Tonasket High School in Okanogan County. And he was not in uniform.

One of the candidates who attended the event – Doug White, of Yakima – later claimed the action was illegal.

Klippert’s remark came during a debate Monday with five other candidates who are vying for Washington’s 4th Congressional District seat.

During a discussion about the Second Amendment, candidate Jerrod Sessler, of Prosser, told the crowd he “carried daily.”

When asked by an attendee if he was carrying a firearm right then, Sessler’s response on the video shared with the Tri-City Herald wasn’t clear.

But Klippert didn’t hesitate.

“The answer to the previous question that was not addressed to me is, ‘Yes, I am, in fact, now packing,’ ” he said.

“I am a commissioned law enforcement officer, and if someone comes through that door to attack anybody in this room, that sheriff is not going to be fighting alone. I am going to be fighting right alongside them to be protecting you,” Klippert said, pointing to a deputy in the room.

Klippert and Sessler were joined on stage with fellow candidates Corey Gibson, of Selah; Ben Garcia, of Sunnyside; and Jacek Kobiesa, of Pasco; and White.

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Loren Culp, the former Republic police chief in Ferry County, did not attend the event.

White, of Yakima – the only Democrat running in the 4th Congressional District – later took to social media and called Klippert’s actions “illegal.”

“A sheriff stood by and did nothing. This is how Uvalde played out. This is not ‘responsible’ gun ownership. Be safe and sane!” White’s campaign wrote.

Klippert has been involved with law enforcement for more than 27 years and recently retired from the Washington State National Guard, his campaign’s website says. He is the Kiona-Benton School District’s school resource officer.

Earlier this month, in a Q&A with the Yakima Herald-Republic, Klippert suggested schools limit access of buildings to one door and that Congress “federalize” gun crimes with a minimum sentence “depending on how heinous the crime is.”

Klippert’s office did not return a phone call this week on the question of having a gun inside the Tonasket school.

Salley Bull, an Oroville resident who attended the debate, has brought the issue to the attention of the Okanogan County commissioners and prosecutor.

She claims Sessler, too, was carrying a concealed firearm.

“Those two guns were not the only illegal ones at the event, as there were a number (of) armed attendees,” she wrote in a letter provided by White’s campaign.

“For events to be held at the Oroville schools, event insurance is required, and signing a form with the list of forbidden items including alcohol, drugs, guns, weapons of any sort. I hope Tonasket is not endorsing nor allowing armed events when we have so many school shootings lately,” her letter said.

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