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Washington Legislature OKs open carry ban at Capitol

The state Capitol building in Olympia. (Getty Images)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — People would be prohibited from openly carrying guns and other weapons at the Capitol and surrounding grounds and at or near permitted public demonstrations across the state under a measure approved Tuesday by the Washington Legislature.

On a 28-21 vote, the Democratic-led Senate concurred with changes made in the House, which passed the bill last month. The Senate initially passed the measure in February, so it now heads to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who is expected to sign it.

“This bill will help ensure the safe exercise of our First Amendment rights by extending current law restricting where someone may carry a weapon to demonstrations and the Capitol campus,” said Democratic Sen. Patty Kuderer, the measure’s sponsor.

Because there is an emergency clause on the bill, the law would take effect immediately upon Inslee’s signature, instead of the usual 90 days after the end of session, something Republicans opposed to the bill noted blocks a potential voter referendum on the measure.

“There’s no emergency,” said Republican Sen. Mike Padden, who joined others in his caucus in voting no.

In addition to prohibiting openly carried weapons in the state Capitol or on the western part of the Capitol campus, the measure bars 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 the perimeter of a permitted demonstration.

The bill adds permitted demonstrations and Capitol grounds surrounding the legislative building to the list of designated places where firearms are already prohibited statewide, including restricted areas of jails, courtrooms, taverns and commercial airports.

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.

Under the measure, a person must knowingly be in violation of the law in order for the criminal penalty to apply, and the prohibition does not apply to concealed carry of a firearm by someone with a valid concealed pistol license.

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.

Written by Associated Press reporter Rachel La Corte

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