State Senate passes bill expanding prohibited weapon zones

Feb 12, 2024, 8:40 PM | Updated: Feb 14, 2024, 3:40 am

Image: Assault weapons and hand guns are seen for sale....

Assault weapons and hand guns are seen for sale. (File photo: Seth Perlman, AP)

(File photo: Seth Perlman, AP)

In a move sure to aggravate gun owners and send cheers through the anti-gun crowd, the Washington state Senate passed a bill, broadening the scope of specific places where individuals are prohibited from knowingly carrying weapons.

Democrat-sponsored Senate Bill 5444 (SB 5444) passed along a party-line vote 29-20. (A PDF of the substitute version of the bill can be viewed here.)

It extends the list of prohibited areas beyond the existing locations such as jails, courtrooms, health facilities, taverns, and airports.

Under the new legislation, individuals would be barred from carrying weapons in public libraries, accredited zoos or aquariums, and transit stations or facilities owned or operated by transit authorities.

This expansion marks a significant step in tightening regulations surrounding weapons possession in public spaces, reflecting recent bills that have put more restrictions on guns.

“I hear from my constituents day in and day out – they want us to address gun safety,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Javier Valdez (D-Seattle), said. “They want to ensure that they feel safe out there, their families especially with their kids are going to libraries, parks, zoos, aquariums, transit centers, that’s where they want to feel safe.”

The bill restricts the open carrying of a firearm at the locations and does not cover someone with a concealed weapons permit.

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Republicans vs. Democrats on the bill

Republicans took particular issues with banning open-carry on public transit and at transit centers.

“We have a lot of crime happening on transit,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, who proposed an amendment removing transit locations from the list. “If you’re out and about and have to take the train home late at night, you have no way to defend yourself if you don’t have a concealed pistol license.”

Wilson added that “certainly the people that you’re trying to keep off those trains, won’t care whether or not you tell them they can’t carry that gun, and they will show you that they have it.”

Sen. Jamie Peterson, D-Seattle, countered Wilson’s argument.

“I want to assure you as a daily transit rider, on both link light rail and Metro buses, I will neither be safer, nor feel safer, with people walking around openly carrying,” said Peterson said.

The amendment failed on a voice vote.

Should the bill become law, a violator could be convicted of a gross misdemeanor with a jail term of 364 days and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Snohomish County, said it discriminates against hunters who don’t have their own vehicle and rely on public transportation.

“Under this bill, no long guns would be allowed to be moved (on public transit). I want to address this for hunters who don’t have their own transportation that live in rural areas like I do” says Wagoner.

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Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, says law abiding gun owners that open carry in public places are being unfairly vilified.

He told a story about hiking in Mount Rainier National Park, open carrying a gun on his hip which is allowed.

“People saw that gun on my hip, and they got farther and farther and farther away, all the way up until the point that somebody said there’s a bear on the trail. Then all of a sudden, everybody got closer and closer and closer. The person (who) carries a firearm is carrying a firearm to protect himself, his children, his family, and perhaps others,” Fortunato said.

SB 5444 heads to the House for debate and a potential floor vote.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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