*By Ruth Peterson, Washington State Senate Legislative Assistant
Most people have heard by now that the Governor has signed SB 5038, a bill that bans open carry on the Capitol Campus and at public demonstrations. But that is only part of the story. Most news articles will focus on that part, but if your hair is on fire over the open carry ban, you really need to know all of the details.
This is a post that I’m hoping will give you some information about the bill, but I also want to show you how you can read and research details about a bill.
First are the basics:
A link to the bill history page where you can see when committee hearings were held, when votes were held in both the House and the Senate, and who voted for an against the bill (click on the link that says “view roll calls”). There is other information that I’ll touch on later.
You can read the actual bill, and that’s what I’m going to refer to in my discussion, but bills are often hard to read and understand, so here is a link to the bill report, which is a summary in layman’s terms. I always read the bill report first to get the overview, but since it doesn’t have every jot and tittle of the new law, I will have to go to the bill to find out the details.
Now that you have those links, let me tell you a little about this bill. There were two things that jumped out at me, so I wanted to get more information.
The brief summary in the bill report says that the bill “prohibits the open carry of a firearm or other weapons at or near public demonstrations, the west state capitol grounds, capitol grounds buildings and other legislative locations.” This brought a few questions to mind. To answer these questions, I went to the bill itself. Here is the link – 5038-S.PL.pdf (wa.gov)
What does “open carry of a firearm or other weapons” actually mean? If you go to page 2, line 7, you will find the definition of the term “weapon.”
“weapon” means any firearm, explosive as defined in RCW 70.74.010, or any weapon of the kind usually known as slungshot, sand club, or metal knuckles, or any knife, dagger, dirk, or other similar weapon that is capable of causing death or bodily injury and is commonly used with the intent to cause death or bodily injury.
Does this include baseball bats? Water bottles filled with ice or flammable liquid? Think of all the “weapons” you’ve seen used at the various riots over the past year. Would all those items be banned, as well? It sure appears to me that all of those things could be called weapons. But the bill only prohibits the “open carry” of such items. It sounds like you can have a knife in your pocket, and you’d be fine. But the key to all of these things is that they may or may not be enforced according to the strict letter of the law. I’ve observed that over the past year, some political groups are arrested and prosecuted for doing something that is ignored in a different political group. Lately, I’ve felt that there is often an attitude of “laws for thee, but not for me.” This should concern everyone.
The bill summary also had this statement – “Permitted demonstration” means a gathering of 15 or more people at a single event in a public place for which a permit has been issued by a government agency or has been designated as permitted by certain local government officials. This definition applies anywhere in the state – not just Olympia. That made me ask about what is said in the bill about unpermitted demonstrations.
I went to the bill to find out more. You can see the entire section that talks about this new law on page 3 of the bill. Read the part that is underlined.
This immediately brought a question to my mind. I’ve seen a lot of permitted groups on the Capitol Campus and in other public places. They come to support or oppose different pieces of legislation. When it’s a firearm protest, everyone shows up with their guns on full display. I’ve never felt endangered by this, but it obviously caused fear in enough Democrat members that they drafted and passed this bill – over the opposition of the Republicans.
There are other permitted events that occur, as well. Not just demonstrations. This bill doesn’t really explain what kind of permitted event is included. What about a fishing derby at a local park? That’s permitted. That’s public. Now it’s illegal to open carry in that venue. And speaking of a fishing derby, how are you going to cut that tangled fishing line? Open carry of knives is illegal, too. I don’t know about you, but in my family, we carry knives all the time to cut baling twine, fishing line, or a cabbage from the garden. In fact, at birthday parties, if there’s a ribbon that’s being tough to remove, it’s a race to see whose knife can get there first. Who will remember to remove that knife if they go with the kids to watch a parade?
What if you go to a friend’s house who lives on a parade route, and you have permission from him or her to open carry. Is that OK? Well, no, it is not. As you see on page 3, line 17, you can open carry on your own property, but not another person’s property, if it is near a permitted event. What about historical reenactments?
But it gets worse. This bill only applies to people following the rules – only the law-abiding citizens. Those who are in unpermitted demonstrations (often in the form of mobs or riots) will not be affected. There is one exception to that – nobody, under any circumstances, can open carry on the Capitol Campus or other legislative buildings. But I was a little shocked that there was nothing done to curb the violence that we’ve experience with the BLM and ANTIFA riots, yet the right to open carry was removed from people who get a permit to demonstrate. That just seems backwards to me. What do you think?
One last note about reading bills: Go to the link and look at page 3 of the actual bill, if you have not done so already. You will see some words are underlined and some are not. The words that are underlined are the only ones that are added to the existing law. The words that are not underlined are already in law. If you look at page 2, you will see the words “twenty one” are struck through. Those are words in the existing law. If you look immediately after the strike-through, you will see the number 21 is underlined. That means they are replacing the word with the number. As you skim through the bill, you will see words (or numbers) struck through and then some underlined words (or numbers). Strike-throughs are removed and underlined words are added. There is one more type of addition. Near the bottom of the bill, on page 6, you will see the words “New Section”. That entire section is newly added to the law. It isn’t underlined, because the entire thing is brand new. But that’s how you can tell what a bill does to the law. Underlined parts and New Sections are added to the law. Strike-throughs are removed.