Opinion

Farewell to arms in state Senate gallery

In 2015, gun-rights advocates, like the woman pictured above, protested rules that prohibit openly carrying guns into the state House and Senate viewing galleries. Three years later, the ban goes a step further: Concealed weapons will no longer be allowed in the Senate gallery.
In 2015, gun-rights advocates, like the woman pictured above, protested rules that prohibit openly carrying guns into the state House and Senate viewing galleries. Three years later, the ban goes a step further: Concealed weapons will no longer be allowed in the Senate gallery. AP

No matter that you’re a licensed gun-owner with a permit to conceal; if you plan to visit the public viewing area of the Washington state Senate, leave your gun at home.

When the new legislative session begins Jan. 8, concealed weapons will no longer be allowed in the Capitol Senate gallery.

The order was issued last week by Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, who’s following through on a campaign promise he made in 2016 while he was a Democratic state senator from Kirkland running to be the Senate’s presiding officer.

Habib is using his authority to ban firearms, overcoats and large bags from the Senate public viewing area without going through the legislative process.

“I don’t want us implementing this type of order the day after some type of tragedy, “ he said. “I want to be doing it preemptively and in a way that’s respectful.”

Habib is in tune with his predecessor, longtime Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who banned visitors from openly carrying firearms in the Senate’s public viewing area. Extending it to concealed carry takes Owens’ precaution a sensible step further.

Both lieutenant governors cited concerns about the safety of other visitors, Senate staff and the youth pages who serve in the chamber.

Habib was careful to distinguish between a site-specific safety measure and a wide abridgement of Second Amendment rights: “This is in no way a statement about those individuals’ lawful ability to bear arms.” In fact, Washington’s constitution contains strong gun-rights provisions.

But his argument didn’t stop firearms activists from shooting off critiques. “This looks like an attempt maybe to keep some people out of the Senate galleries who’ve never caused a problem before,“ said Dave Workman, spokesman for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Bellevue.

In the great and ongoing American struggle between individual rights and the public good, we’re sidi ng with the latter this time. Since Habib announced his run for lieutenant governor last year, there have been more than 500 mass shootings in America.

His decree is a well-advised preemptive strike. The Senate gallery joins a long list of other gun-free zones such as schools, courthouses, jails, airports and sports arenas. Most statehouses ban firearms, as does the U.S. Capitol building.

Not every measure to regulate or restrict firearms is part of a liberal conspiracy to confiscate guns. Concealed weapons still will be allowed in Senate committee rooms, the main public areas of the Capitol and all areas of the House of Representatives.

If the House decides to follow Habib’s lead, we, for one, would welcome the consistent approach; our statehouse, like a revolver, would be safer with two adjacent chambers cleared of ammunition. But so far, House officials say there’s been no discussion to do that. (The House does ban open carry in the gallery.)

Meanwhile, last week in the other Washington, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved a half-baked bill allowing all concealed-carry permit holders to legally carry guns in other states.

Concealed carry is permitted in all 50 states, but unlike Washington, some don’t have a mandatory fingerprint-based background check for criminal and mental health history.

If passed into law, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 would allow any approved holder from another state, however lax its standards, to carry a concealed weapon in Washington.

But thanks to Habib, at least those concealed weapons will not make it into the Senate gallery of the Washington Legislature.

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