Braun, Southwest Washington Senators Critical of Bill That Prohibits Open-Carry at Protests


A law to ban open-carry weapons at the state Capitol and any permitted and public demonstrations across the state passed the Senate on party lines last week, inching closer to becoming state law. 

For Senate Minority Leader Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, Senate Bill 5038 was an easy no-vote. 

“My district is overwhelmingly supportive of second amendment rights,” he said during a floor speech last week. Braun represents most of Lewis County. 

In his opposition of the bill, he also made references to recent protests, including the deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters, some now identified as white supremacists, anti-semites and other alt-right extremists. That level of violence, he said, is “not normal.”

The same day, Jan. 6, conservative protesters, some armed, broke through a gate and marched onto the lawn of the governor’s mansion. Arrests were made after threats were lobbed at members of the press.

“It doesn’t matter what your politics are. It doesn’t matter if Antifa exists or doesn’t exist. There was still violence happening, and we let it happen without taking action,” Braun said.  

He then lambasted Democrats for adding “yet another law” to fix the issue, arguing that the way to address increased violence at protests is to “win hearts and minds” and “help folks understand that we can disagree without resorting to violent actions.”

Sen. Jeff Wilson, whose 19th Legislative District includes the Southwest-most tip of the state and a chunk of Lewis County, said the bill could criminalize law-abiding citizens. If passed, violation would be a gross misdemeanor. 

Wilson also referred to gun sales, which skyrocketed in the last year, saying the trend should be met with increased gun safety and education programs, which would “teach tolerance.”

“It’s very clear the only weapons the 19th District fears are bills like this one,” Wilson said, arguing that the bill is part of a “steady erosion” of gun rights. 

To the north of Lewis County, rural District 35’s Sen. Tim Sheldon was the only Democrat to vote against the bill. In a press release, Sheldon characterized the legislation as an “urban lack of understanding or rural concerns,” saying his constituents see it as a “gradual erosion or their ability to keep and bear arms.”

The bill specifically targets the state Capitol campus, where security measures were ramped up after the incident at Gov. Jay Inslee’s mansion as well as several shootings in Olympia during protests. 

The uptick in violence means the country has “turned a page in history,” Washington State Patrol Spokesman Chris Loftis told reporters this year. 

SB 5038 bill defines a public place as “any site accessible to the general public for business, entertainment or other lawful purposes,” which could include parking lots directly in front of businesses. 

Locally, the bill likely wouldn’t have impacted spontaneous non-permitted armed protests like the ones that transpired outside of Spiffy’s late last year thanks to “calls to action” circulating on social media.

Democrats contended that the bill is a reasonable restriction on the Second Amendment, similar to other, legal restrictions on constitutional rights.