An estimated 1,000 gun rights activists converged Saturday on the Capitol Campus, toting American flags, wearing camouflage and carrying their guns.
The armed citizens turned out to participate in an I Will Not Comply rally, protesting Initiative 594, a measure passed by voters that expands background checks for firearm sales and transfers.
“We’re going to stand up for our rights,” event organizer Gavin Seim said. “Our rights are not up for negotiation.”
Many in the crowd participated in what was touted as a group act of noncompliance, passing their guns to one another. No one was arrested as a result, and Washington State Patrol trooper Guy Gill said the agency was not treating the acts as a crime.
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“We’re not convinced that handing someone a gun is a violation of 594,” Gill said.
Many in the crowd said the initiative infringes on their liberty and their Second Amendment rights.
One of the main problems with the initiative, said Thurston County resident Brian Keith, is that it prevents gun owners from handing their guns to friends without a background check.
Others, such as Edmonds resident Trevyr Justice, likened the initiative to acts carried out by Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong.
“The first thing Hitler did is make sure people couldn’t defend themselves,” Justice said. “I’m not saying that’s what people are doing here, but it might be.”
The rally kicked off with some safety recommendations: keep pistols holstered and long guns unloaded. Rally attendees then said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the national anthem.
Keith, carrying a rifle on his back, took the podium and addressed the crowd. He said that not only was carrying guns a right of American citizens, but it also was a necessity in preventing violent crime.
“One murder is too many; one rape is too many; one violent robbery is too many,” Keith said.
The Capitol High School graduate said he differs from other gun rights advocates in that he didn’t grow up with guns — it’s an interest he developed as a Washington State University student.
Keith said he’s always been interested in the concept of liberty, and his interest in guns was piqued by a quote he attributes to George Washington: “Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty, teeth and keystone under independence.”
He has a concealed carry permit, and sometimes carries a pistol. But he said this was the first time he’d walked in public with a rifle strapped to his back.
“The fact that I’m walking around with a rifle is ridiculous,” Keith said. “I never thought I would be doing this. But like I told my parents, this might be one of the last times we’re allowed to do this, so we better do it now.
Keith said one effect of I-594 was that the background check requirement will squelch the spread of safe gun culture because he won’t be able to pass his gun to friends to teach them about gun safety.
“I’m predicting that there will be more and more people who won’t know how to handle their guns,” Keith said. “That’s because no one will be able to show them.”
Roy Talbott of Olympia said he’s in favor of background checks, but I-594 is just too broad.
“All of us are for background checks, but this just goes too far,” Talbott said.