Spooking lawmakers with guns isn’t political genius

Have gun-control operatives infiltrated Washington’s gun-rights crowd?

You’d think so, given the guaranteed-to-backfire tactics some gun advocates are using to lobby the Legislature.

Opponents of Initiative 594 – which broadened the state’s background check requirements – have taken to showing up at the Capitol heavily armed, somehow convinced that spooky displays of deadly weapons are going to win friends and influence lawmakers. They want the initiative rolled back. But they’re more likely to push legislators into the other camp, helping I-594 proponents win more votes for further gun restrictions.

Their first demonstration, in December – at which they handed guns to each other in supposed violation of I-594 – came off as merely silly. Their second, last month, was serious business. A small platoon of them brought their guns into the gallery overlooking the Senate floor, some brandishing military-style rifles like jihadists celebrating a suicide bombing.

Legislative leaders responded by banning openly carried firearms in both the House and Senate chambers and in all hearing rooms. Did anyone think that lawmakers were going to see those weapons and say, “Hey, you guys are really talking sense – let’s repeal that initiative.”?

The most recent demonstration was farcical. About 50 gun-toters showed up on the Capitol steps and tried to break the new rules. The State Patrol handled them by keeping the gallery doors locked.

They then went to the gates of the governor’s mansion and prayed, perhaps not recognizing that their own demonstrations were answers to the other side’s prayers.

The chief result of this has been a change in the conversation.

The issue had been I-594 – which will be all but impossible to amend this session, because it takes a two-thirds vote to alter a newly approved initiative.

The issue now is the state’s permissive open-carry law, which allows gun owners to wear or carry their firearms in plain sight in all but a few prohibited places, such as taverns and courthouses. That’s the law that originally let the demonstrators troop into the Capitol looking like Ukrainian militia. Some undecided lawmakers are likely thinking that open-carry is not such a great idea, now that gun enthusiasts are getting in their faces with openly carried semiautomatics.

Here’s a rule of politics and, for that matter, a rule of life: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it.

An openly carried rifle that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in a rural deer-hunting town will cause a genuine panic in downtown Seattle – or Olympia. The gun is out of context. A lot of people are terrified by the sight of guns in cities. They figure that the guy with the gun is not a deer hunter.

You don’t advance your cause by terrifying people. Especially not in the Puget Sound region, which pushed I-594 to its 59 percent victory, and which commands most of the seats in the Legislature.

Gun-toters can talk themselves hoarse about legalities and rights, but the gun itself drowns out all the explanations and justifications. It looks like danger. It looks like deliberate, deadly intimidation.

Advice to armed demonstrators: Chill. Keep it up, and the ban on open carry in the Capitol galleries will be only the start.