Washington state ban on openly carried weapons in Capitol galleries extends to public hearings



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A sign noting the prohibition of openly carried firearms and knives is posted outside of a House committee room, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, in Olympia, Wash. Officials say that a recent decision to ban openly carried weapons in the House and Senate public viewing areas also applies to the public hearing rooms at the Capitol's legislative office buildings. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)


Alan Hoover, with state Senate security, sits near a sign noting the prohibition of openly carried firearms and knives from Senate committee rooms, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, in Olympia, Wash. Officials say that a recent decision to ban openly carried weapons in the House and Senate public viewing areas also applies to the public hearing rooms at the Capitol's legislative office buildings.(AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)


OLYMPIA, Washington — A decision to ban openly carried weapons in the House and Senate public viewing areas also applies to the public hearing rooms at the Capitol's legislative office buildings, officials from both chambers told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

At the end of the first week of the legislative session earlier this month, the Senate announced the open-carry ban in the public galleries that sit above the chamber floor and was quickly followed by the House early last week. Leaders in both chambers said they considered openly carried guns the same as any prop used for a demonstration, which is not allowed under each chamber's rules.

Hunter Goodman, the secretary of the Senate, said he conferred last week with Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat who serves as president of the Senate, to confirm that the rules also applied to the public hearing rooms.

Goodman said that just as in the Senate public galleries, signs and other props were previously not allowed in the hearing room. He said that the decision allows the chamber to maintain decorum and safety in the hearing rooms, as in the galleries.

"We have to make sure we're maintaining public safety while the public hearings are going on," Goodman said.

New signs noting the prohibition on openly carried weapons, including firearms and blades, were put up Wednesday outside the committee rooms. Signs had previously been placed outside the committee rooms in the House building.

Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said that rule for the committee hearings took effect at the same time it did in the House gallery.

"It's the same philosophy as in the gallery," said Sullivan "We want to ensure that committees are able to operate just as we do on the floor."

Bob Calkins, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, said that as in the public galleries, if someone openly carries a weapon in the public hearing rooms, they'll be directed to leave. If they decline, they will be subject to arrest for criminal trespass.

People can still bring their concealed guns into the galleries and committee rooms, as long as they have a concealed pistol license. Openly carried weapons are still allowed in the main public areas of the Capitol and on the grounds of the Capitol campus.

Kit Lange, a Lake Stevens gun rights activist who runs a blog called 'The Patrick Henry Society,' said in a posting last week that opponents will protest the public gallery rules at the Capitol on Feb. 7. In a post titled "An Open Letter to the Washington State Patrol," she said they "want no fight, but we will not comply."

"The Legislature does not have the right to tell people when and where to exercise their inalienable rights," Lange said by phone Wednesday, noting that opponents are willing to get arrested if necessary.

"Legislatures need to be on notice that our rights are our rights," she said. "It's not their authority to take them at their will."

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