OLYMPIA — A Senate committee on Thursday approved a measure that would ban the open carry of guns and other weapons on the Capitol campus and at or near any permitted public demonstration across Washington state.
The measure passed the Senate Law and Justice committee on a 5-4 party line vote and now heads to the Senate Rules Committee, the last stop before it is up for a vote by the full Senate.
The bill would prohibit people from carrying weapons, either on their person or in their vehicle, while attending a permitted demonstration at a public place or while being within 250 feet of a permitted demonstration.
The initial bill had the ban expand to within 1,000 feet of a demonstration, but the bill's sponsor, Democratic Sen. Patty Kuderer, offered an amendment before the vote that reduced the buffer zone. Under the amended language, protests that don't have a permit are not covered by the ban.
It also prohibits openly carried weapons in the state Capitol or on the Capitol's grounds. Violation of the law would be a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000, or both. Kuderer said she modeled it on a similar law enacted in Alabama.
"The idea is that when you open carry at a protest you're doing that with the intent to intimidate those who are there," Kuderer said before the committee vote. "Our communities and the public at large has resoundingly said enough is enough."
Republican Sen. Keith Wagoner, who voted against the measure, said that the proposed law was the "wrong direction to go."
"I think that this bill tries to eliminate intimidation, but what it really does is it just shifts which intimidation counts more than the other and it tramples on Second Amendment Rights," he said.
While openly carried guns have been banned in both the public galleries of the Senate and House chambers and in public hearing rooms at the Capitol's legislative office buildings since 2015, people can still openly carry weapons in the main public areas of the Washington Capitol and on the grounds of the Capitol campus.
Permitted concealed weapons have been banned from the Senate public gallery since 2018, but they are allowed in the House public gallery. The Capitol building has been closed to the public since last March because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the Capitol campus grounds are open and have drawn protests including people carrying weapons to oppose coronavirus restrictions, and then, after the election, the outcome.
In December, there was a shooting that injured one person during a clash between protesters in a parking lot near the Capitol's two press houses.
More than a dozen states ban open carry in government-owned buildings or state Capitol buildings, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Just four other states plus the District of Columbia prohibit open carry at demonstrations or protests, according to the center.
The proposed law would add permitted demonstrations and the Capitol grounds to the list of designated places where firearms are already prohibited statewide, including restricted areas of jails, courtrooms, taverns and commercial airports.