OLYMPIA — Gun-rights demonstrations and other protests at the Capitol have long drawn large crowds of individuals, many of whom sport handguns on their hips or semiautomatic rifles slung over their shoulders.
But the open carry of firearms, long a symbolic form of expression in Washington, will be banned at permitted protests and at the state Capitol under a bill passed by the Legislature.
Senate lawmakers Tuesday gave final approval to Senate Bill 5038, which comes after last year's heated political clashes that culminated in shootings on two different days near the Capitol campus in December.
The bill, which heads to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature, passed the Democratic-controlled Senate on Tuesday on a party-line vote, 28-21.
"My hope is that it will make demonstrations safer for everyone to participate in," said Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue and the bill's sponsor.
Emails seeking comment to the National Rifle Association and the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation on Tuesday afternoon were not returned.
Both groups have challenged other new Washington gun laws in the courts. Kuderer said she expects a legal challenge against SB 5038.
If signed by Inslee, the bill will ban the open carry of firearms or other weapons at or around public demonstrations, according to a legislative analysis. It also prohibits open carry on the west grounds of the Capitol campus, at buildings on the campus and at other legislative locations.
The bill also prohibits open carry at public demonstrations that have been issued a permit by a government agency, which are defined as a gathering of 15 or more individuals at a single event.
Local government officials can also designate a demonstration as a permitted event, which would make the prohibition take effect.
Violations would be a gross misdemeanor. The bill makes an exception for law enforcement officers.
The prohibition does not apply to individuals lawfully carrying concealed firearms with a valid concealed pistol license.
The final version of the bill contains an emergency clause, meaning it takes effect as soon as it is signed and prohibits a referendum vote at the ballot box.
That was added as an amendment after Democratic lawmakers say they thought it was requested by the Washington State Patrol, said Kuderer, but that was misconstrued.
Still, Kuderer said she is happy that clause was added in order to deter potential armed demonstrations over the legislation.
"I already heard this has angered a lot of folks who think that the Second Amendment is sacrosanct," said Kuderer.