Only days after Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib unilaterally declared the state Senate viewer gallery to be a “gun free zone,” the state’s largest newspaper reinforced its anti-gun editorial policy by calling for a ban on firearms throughout the state capitol in a Friday editorial.
In a bizarre coincidence, the state Department of Licensing released updated data Friday showing that there are now 591,366 active concealed pistol licenses in the state. This figure keeps the Evergreen State in the Top Ten per capita states where licensed concealed carry is the law, and it represents an increase of nearly 20,000 new CPLs since January. With a month left to go, Washington could have more than 592,000 legally-armed citizens, and that doesn’t count the small but growing contingent of open carriers who don’t need a license because their sidearms are visible.
About two years ago, open carry was restricted in the viewing galleries of both the House and Senate chambers. That prohibition did not affect citizens carrying concealed sidearms.
The Seattle Times editorial board doesn’t care for all this hardware, especially in the capitol. The newspaper maintains that Habib’s order “should be applied to the entire Capitol building, which would probably require the Legislature to pass a law. Leaders of the House and Senate can restrict guns in their own chambers, but state law includes no gun restrictions for public spaces like the rotunda.”
But there may be a problem for the lieutenant governor. He was handed a letter the other day by State Sen. Phil Fortunato that maintained this gun ban policy is illegal under the state constitution and existing state statute. Here’s what Fortunato wrote, in part:
“I note that in your letter regarding your decision you appear to rely on your authority under Senate Rule 1. I have reviewed the rule and find no authority whatsoever for you to restrict firearms or weapons…You have no more ability to restrict by fiat the private exercise of a constitutional right than you could prohibit a whispered prayer in the gallery or the right of union members watching legislative debate to peaceably assemble. Senate Rule 1 does not give you carte blanche to violate the constitution.”
Article 1, section 24 of the State Constitution states explicitly “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.”
State statute specifically allows those citizens licensed to carry concealed pistols at the Capitol.
Habib and the newspaper seem to be offering a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Habib tried to justify his action earlier in the week by declaring, “I don’t want us to be implementing this type of order the day after some type of tragedy. I want to be doing it preemptively and in a way that’s respectful.”
“This is in no way a statement about those individuals’ lawful ability to bear arms,” he added.
Critics say that’s nonsense because his unilateral prohibition directly affects a citizen’s ability to bear arms. They also say there have been no incidents that would justify this ban.
As for the newspaper’s position, the Seattle Times editorial board historically has supported virtually every gun control measure to come along. Gun owners who have cancelled their subscriptions criticize the newspaper for using the First Amendment to attack the Second Amendment.