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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington House Joins Senate In Banning Openly-Carried Guns In Galleries

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Troopers with the Washington State Patrol review the list of what is prohibited in the Senate's public viewing galleries. Both the Senate and House have now decided to include openly-carried guns on the list of prohibited items.

The Washington House has joined the state Senate in banning openly carried guns in the public viewing galleries.

House leaders made that announcement Monday morning following an incident in the House gallery last week.

In that incident, more than a dozen armed activists staged a demonstration -- they stood in the public gallery some holding their guns aloft. One protester was threatened with arrest for carrying his weapon in a manner that could be viewed as hostile.

That demonstration re-ignited a discussion about openly carried guns in the House and Senate galleries. The Senate moved quickly to add guns to the list of prohibited items -- a list that includes signs, umbrellas and strollers. The House has now followed.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan views the guns as props.

“Props are not allowed. They’re not allowed even on the floor,” he said. “When a member is speaking, if they hold up a piece of a paper or anything that’s considered to be a prop they’ll be gaveled down for that. It’s not allowable under our rules.”

House Republican leaders did not object to the move, but said there may be further discussion. The ban also extends to openly-carried blades or knives.

Dan Kristiansen, the Republican leader in the Washington House, said last week’s incident highlighted a “gray area” in the rules of decorum.

“Last week, when these folks went up in the gallery they were even laughing about it that: ‘you mean you’re going to allow us to bring our long gun with a fixed bayonet in here, but we can’t take our backpack in?’” he said.

Besides backpacks, House and Senate policy also prohibits signs, strollers and umbrellas. Kristiansen considers the gun ban to be an extension of that same rule.

The new restriction does not affect concealed-carry permit holders. Open-carry advocates can still bring their guns into the Washington Capitol building -- as long as they don’t enter the viewing galleries.

Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, spoke out against the individuals involved in the incident at the House Gallery.

"This is the result of a few stupid extremists on our side who not only handled their firearms unsafely, but made the hundreds of Second Amendment supporters at the rally look foolish," Gottlieb wrote in an email. "Irresponsible actions get us bad results. Unfortunately, some of the fools in town are on our side. This kind of childish theater hurts our cause. The gun ban crowd is having a field day over this."

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."