By Sydney Brown
WNPA Olympia News Service
OLYMPIA — A proposed ban on open-carry weapons during public demonstrations sparked a heated debate on whether the bill unreasonably restricts the Second Amendment to secure the protections of the First Amendment.
The Senate Law & Justice Committee voted on Jan. 28 to send Senate Bill 5038 to the state House in a 5-4 vote, with Democrat committee members voting together in the majority.
Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, said she introduced SB 5038 to limit “intimidation” by counterprotesters during a peaceful demonstration. She cited incidents in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during which a 17-year-old drove to a protest with the intent to shoot at several protestors, as the driving factor behind keeping firearms away from demonstrations.
The bill would make it illegal for a person to knowingly open-carry a firearm or any weapons within 250 feet of state Capitol grounds or during participation in any demonstration.
“It’s simply a reasonable restriction we’re putting on it just like we do with other amendments,” Kuderer said. The law would not apply to on-duty local or state law enforcement.
People on both sides of the aisle criticized the bill, however. Some opponents said the bill unnecessarily limited the Second Amendment and others said citizens should have the opportunity to protect themselves against potential police violence. Tom Kwieciak of the National Rifle Association said on Jan. 26 that he opposed the bill because it would remove the rights of local owners to defend their businesses against a protest that gets out of hand.
“We believe it is clearly unconstitutional to remove one person’s Second Amendment right solely on the basis of another person, who is three football fields away, exercising their First Amendment right,” Kwieciak said.
Sharyn Hinchcliffe of Pink Pistols, a gun rights advocacy group, also spoke in opposition to the bill. She said criminalizing open-carry at demonstrations would only serve law enforcement officers, as they would be the only ones allowed to open carry at demonstrations. This legislation would remove tools from “unprotected” protestors who could still be on the receiving end of police violence, she said.
“Open carry of firearms has long been used in the United States to protect those fighting oppression in authoritarian governments,” Hinchcliffe said.
Some law enforcement officers voiced support for the bill. Chief Adrian Diaz of the Seattle Police Department said he witnessed incidents escalate because of the presence of a gun.
“They make no one safe and in fact increase the risk of everyone involved,” Diaz said.
Another who supports the bill was retired psychologist Margaret Heldring from Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, who said she has “vivid, disturbing images of armed intimidation” from the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“Protestors openly carrying assault rifles at Capitol buildings, rallies or demonstrations are not customarily protecting themselves against a credible threat,” she said. “They are inspiring fear, chilling free speech and endangering public safety.”